Welcome Fig! Inclusive Children’s Media Mickey Mouse Funhouse Introduces A New Friend
Lots of talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion. What does it mean? The guiding idea behind the movement is to ensure that there is diversity: a presence of differences in any given setting and persons of every race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, and socioeconomic class. Equity ensures that all persons are offered processes and programs that are impartial, fair, and provide equal possible outcomes for every individual. Inclusion is the state of being valued, respected, and supported in being one’s authentic self.
Working together across differences achieves better outcomes for everyone.
While the conversation has begun--you will find people of all ages discussing how to be anti-racist or how to properly use gender pronouns--the disabled, the largest marginalized group in the world, is consistently left out of the conversation. In the US, one in four people (26%) have a disability. The lack of representation is most acutely felt in media, for example, only 3.1% of characters on screen are disabled. In children’s television, the statistic is even worse—less than 1% of characters on screen are disabled. The sad truth is that historically the disabled have been pushed aside and have been underserved and ignored. The lack of representation impacts the way disabled children see themselves and the way others interact with them. Media is a powerful force that can include characters with disability, so that all types of bodies and neurodiversity can be normalized. People, disabled or not, can be introduced to disabled characters they can admire and relate to.
Change is coming. We are super excited to share that Disney has introduced a new friend, the character Fig, a deaf gnome who has a passion for music and drumming in the Mickey Mouse Funhouse animated series on Disney Junior. In the introductory episode, entitled, “The Music of the Seasons,” Fig and his sister Olive help Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck understand how he communicates. Preschoolers will also learn about American Sign Language in the show.
Kate Moran, who wrote the episode, has close family members who are deaf. She says that Fig is an amalgam of her deaf and hard of hearing cousins and two deaf drummers she admires. Fig is the kind of character she and her cousins would have liked to see when they were children where any differences are a wonderful addition to the character but not necessarily the defining characteristic of the character. Deaf brothers and advocates Delbert Whetter and Jevon Whetter were consultants in the show’s development and added important direction in the inclusion of ASL. For one thing, the cartoon characters in the show have four, not five fingers. Through personal knowledge of ASL, the Whetters explained that ASL is a language that incorporates body language and facial expressions just as much as it does the hands and fingers. One can communicate in ASL while holding an object, or even when wearing a fingerless mitten This is why it is so important to include authentic, deaf professionals into the creative process. It is the lived life experience of an authentically deaf person who can truly understand the challenges and conditions that deaf characters might find themselves in.
In the disabled community there is a common saying: “Nothing about us without us.” This speaks to the idea that if a story features a disabled character, there should be people involved both behind and in front of the camera who can directly relate to the character.
The introduction of Fig will bring more inclusion to the deaf community. The voices of the unheard can be amplified. Telling stories with diverse and authentic characters challenges stereotypes and provides inspiring role models for the next generation.
Drum on Fig! We will be looking for you on the Mickey Mouse Funhouse.