Netflix’s ‘Special’ hopes to break new ground for disability representation on TV

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The only thing more difficult for Ryan O’Connell than coming out as gay? Coming out as disabled.

The TV writer-turned-star told his friends and family he was gay when he was 17, but waited until he was 28 to let his new friends and co-workers know that he has cerebral palsy. He was severely injured after being hit by a car seven years earlier, which he used as a catch-all excuse for his limp when he moved from Ventura, California, to New York at 21.

“People just assumed it was from my accident, so it was the perfect lie,” O’Connell says. “It was definitely harder to come out about being disabled, because I had to sift through years of trauma from being closeted (about my disability) and what that did to me psychologically.”

O’Connell, 32, mines that tricky path to self-acceptance for laughs in his new Netflix comedy “Special,” streaming Friday, which is based on his 2015 memoir “I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves.”

The show is co-produced by Jim Parsons and features eight 15-minute episodes in its first season. It stars O’Connell as a more introverted version of himself who lives with his selfless, helicopter mom (Jessica Hecht). As in real life, on-screen Ryan tries to hide his cerebral palsy from his work BFF (Punam Patel) and skeptical supervisor (Marla Mindelle) when he starts a new job as a blogger, while also struggling with body image as he enters the gay dating scene.

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