top of page
  • Larissa Martin

New 'Alma's Way' Character Eddie Is Paving the Way for Disability Representation in Children's Shows

The new PBS KIDS show “Alma’s Way” follows a little girl who lives with her family in the coolest borough in the Bronx as she learns important lessons about life while having fun with her friends in the neighborhood. Eddie Mambo is the 6-year-old cousin of the main character — and he has cerebral palsy. Seeing a character who looks like me matters because when I was growing up with cerebral palsy, I never saw characters with disabilities. It is refreshing to see that this generation of kids with disabilities will be able to see someone who represents them.

I recently had the opportunity to get a sneak peek of Eddie’s first appearance in the show, and I absolutely loved that they put Eddie before his disability. Showing the person first is rare for TV shows — usually, they put a character’s disability before the actual character. Eddie is a much-needed change for a TV character with a disability, and this conversation around disability on the show needs to be continued. In honor of Eddie’s first appearance on the show on May 5, I was recently given the opportunity to speak with the supervising producer on “Alma’s Way,” Olubunmi Mia Olufemi, and I also spoke with Dr. Mary Louise Russell, the pediatric rehabilitation physician who helped make sure Eddie’s portrayal was accurate. Here’s what they had to say:

Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

LARISSA MARTIN: What inspired you to include this character in the show? Will there be more characters with disabilities moving forward?

OLUBUNMI MIA OLUFEMI: Eddie Mambo is inspired by two people from “Alma’s Way” creator Sonia Manzano’s life: her close cousin, Eddie “Guagua” Rivera, who was a talented bassist and a pioneer in Salsa and Latin jazz and another boy from her neighborhood named Dennis, who had polio and loved to dance. Sonia always tells an amazing story about Dennis twirling two women around the floor while doing the mambo. When developing “Alma’s Way,” it was important to Sonia and executive producer Ellen Doherty to include a main character with a visible disability. This opportunity came in the form of Eddie, Alma’s “primo-amigo” (“cousin-friend”), who is a combination of these two real-life people.

As we plan ahead for future seasons of “Alma,” we have created storylines for a young girl who uses a wheelchair whom viewers have already seen in the background of the first season, and we also plan to work with advisors to develop storylines around a character who will be deaf or hard of hearing.

Typically, when we are introduced to a disabled character on a children’s show, their disability is the focus of the show. What made you decide to focus on Eddie’s interests instead of his disability?

On “Alma’s Way,” we approach our storytelling in a way that is realistic and authentic. For Alma, Eddie, and Junior, Eddie’s use of braces and crutches is a well-known fact of life. Nothing about this is new or foreign to them in a way that requires additional explanation. So while Eddie having cerebral palsy is an important part of who he is, we haven’t found it necessary to call out his diagnosis in that way. Instead, we’ve focused on showing viewers what Eddie’s cerebral palsy means for him in everyday life. Kids will notice that Eddie can walk short distances without his crutches but that for longer walks to baseball games and visits to the park, he’ll grab his “sticks” to help him along. When he plays the trumpet with his band, he keeps a stool close by him in case he gets tired and needs to sit down. He’s teaching himself to play a mini tuba instead of a full sized one because carrying over 10 pounds is difficult for him to do. And when he dances the tango with Becka, he leads, but Becka makes sure to give him extra stability by wrapping her arm under his and curving it behind his back to support his upper body.

One day, we plan to tell a story in which our characters discuss cerebral palsy and what that means for Eddie, but we will do so in a way that is natural and makes sense for the storyline and our world.

What impact do you think Eddie will have not just on your audience but on representation for children with disabilities?

We’re happy to bring Eddie’s reality to the television screen for kids both with and without disabilities who may or may not know about cerebral palsy. Eddie’s an amazing kid, and we think anyone who sees the show will say, “I totally want to hang out with that guy!” But he’s also just one character with disabilities — albeit one we worked really hard to create and are still actively developing.

At the start of the show, we worked with medical advisors who created a detailed medical history covering Eddie’s birth, cognitive and physical development, and physical therapy. Throughout production, our medical advisor, Dr. Mary Louise Russell, reviews all of Eddie’s storylines, animation, and designs for accuracy. A few episodes in, we showed Eddie’s animation to seven children with varying cerebral palsy diagnoses and their families to get their honest thoughts on Eddie’s animation and representation. We received a lot of great feedback and recommendations that we were able to incorporate into his animation immediately. We also worked with a young teenager with the same diagnosis as Eddie to create several reference videos for our animators displaying his range of motion for activities like climbing stairs, sitting, running with crutches, and dancing.

What is your favorite thing about Eddie and what are you most excited for your audience to see about him?

Eddie’s got an amazing set of musical skills, and he’s a phenomenal dancer and rapper to boot. We also love just how sweet, patient, and kind he is. Eddie’s always down to spend time with his little cousins and teach them how to Mambo, play Für Elise on the piano, or make puppets out of hole-filled socks for the community center’s fundraiser for new Bomba drums. We hope our audience loves Eddie just as much as Alma does and will look upon him fondly as their own “primo-amigo” on PBS KIDS.

I loved interviewing Olubunmi Mia Olufemi about Eddie’s appearance on “Alma’s Way.” Dr. Mary Louise Russell, the pediatric rehab physician who was a consult on the show, also had great things to share about disability representation on television:

What is your hope for the future of representation on TV and society’s view of disability?

DR. MARY LOUISE RUSSELL: My hope for future representation for people with disabilities, both on TV and in society, is that people with disabilities will be portrayed as capable of fulfilling any relationship role: spouse, parent, sibling, friend, hero, or employee, or boss, or employee.  We still need to break down accessibility barriers so that people with disabilities can participate fully in these roles — both on television and in real life.

As a person with a disability, seeing Eddie on TV gives me hope for the future. I am beyond excited for kids to see Eddie portrayed the same as every other character — as a person who just happens to have cerebral palsy.


Comments


bottom of page