Ableism and Wheel of Fortune

Tonight, I watched Wheel of Fortune to do something different and to relax a bit after a busy week. And I got to thinking.

My students and I have been talking about privilege and its various manifestations.

This evening I got to wondering what they would do if a contestant required a wheelchair or a stool or had some kind of difference that might prevent them from being able to stand and turn the heavy wheel. What about contestants who can’t see or can’t hear? 

And it occurred to me that I’ve never seen or heard of a “disabled” contestant on the show. Admittedly, I have seen the show probably ten times in the last ten or fifteen years, if even that often. However, as a child, I watched it daily. (Wow. I am getting old.)

Anyway, I did some quick Google searches. Apparently, Wheel of Fortune had what is considered its first disabled contestant in 2014 (!!!). I can only find evidence of one wheelchair user who was a contestant but during a couples week in 2011 or so.

This is a problem. 

Wheel of Fortune should regularly have contestants with various kinds of non-normative bodies and non-normative senses. For those who can’t stand or turn the wheel, they could have someone else spin for them. For those who can’t see or hear, they could have an interpreter. 

As a disabled person myself and as someone who has all kinds of medical problems, I am disappointed that I didn’t “see” this sooner, but such is the nature of privilege and oppression. We’re so accustomed to both — sometimes we miss it. We assume that Wheel of Fortune “allows” regular people, that it perpetuates normativity, and we forget that the normative is socially constructed. 

Wheel of Fortune discriminates en masse against contestants–young and old–who are qualified in every possible way–except for their inability to stand and physically spin the wheel and/or the inability to see or hear in the “correct” way.

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda