Emily’s Crusade

This week we have an amazing new guest blogger who offers her own personal perspective on our Writer’s Group with Emily Kingsley.  And she’s a PhD!  Dr. Melissa Morgenlander is the Founder and Editor of the iQ Journals, a blog about autism, media, technology, and a boy named Quentin. She is also a freelance researcher and curriculum designer who is passionate about leveraging the power of television, games, video, and mobile technology for all children’s learning. Her career began in kids’ TV production, working for shows like PBS’ Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, Nickelodeon’s Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss and Blue’s Clues.   Her research credits include stints for several children’s media powerhouses, such as Sesame Workshop, Cyberchase, Word World, and Little Einsteins. Melissa received her PhD from Teachers College, Columbia University in 2010.  Take it away, Melissa!

On March 11, 2013, CMA hosted longtime Sesame Workshop writer, Emily Kingsley, for a Writer’s Group gathering. Her talk was called “S is for Special Needs.” As both a kids’ TV researcher and a parent of a child with special needs, I was more than excited to attend.

Kingsley began by telling the group the story of how she started at the Workshop. While she had established a career in TV production for game shows and talk shows, when Sesame Street came on the air, she knew she had to be a part of it.  She stalked the production team, who passed her on to research, who passed her on to editing, etc. No one wanted to hire her, but she stayed persistent. After nine months of constantly watching the show and asking the Workshop for work, she finally made her break into the writer’s room.

Kingsley eventually became known as the champion for special needs inclusion on the show. It began with her writing sketches for the Little Theater of the Deaf – a performance group that included both hearing and deaf people (and Linda Bove, who went on to become a cast member). But Kingsley’s insistence to include special needs children became much more personal when she gave birth to her son, Jason, who was born with Down Syndrome.  It was at that point that Kingsley realized her real life mission: To make sure that all children were represented on the show, including those with disabilities. “The feeling of being left out and not represented is so painful,” she told the group. “I realized that I was in a unique position to do something about that.” She lobbied for more diverse casting: children in wheelchairs, people on crutches, and deaf people who sign. This sentiment is beautifully summed up in one musical segment that Kingsley wrote the lyrics for, along with her son, Jason: Count Me In.

Kingsley was clear with her mission at Sesame Street: “People with disabilities are the America’s largest minority,” she told the group. “That does not even include all the parents and people who care for them! They need to be represented and heard from.”  In my blog, The iQ Journals, I spend a lot of time seeking out media that can help my son Quentin learn and adjust to our strange, non-autistic world. I also seek out media that includes people with ASDs so that he and his twin sister, Fiona, can find some representations of their reality on screens.

Let’s keep this conversation going.  What are your thoughts?