Quinta Brunson introduces 'Abbott Elementary' students with disabilities

Quinta Brunson introduced new students in "Abbott Elementary" Season 2. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
Quinta Brunson introduced new students in "Abbott Elementary" Season 2. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Creator and star Quinta Brunson said Season 2 of Abbott Elementary, premiering Wednesday on ABC and Hulu, introduces a student who uses a wheelchair and another who communicates via American Sign Language.

Brunson, 32, said the storylines were inspired by her mother's experiences teaching a blind student.


"They weren't necessarily giving my mom resources to help her with this blind student," Brunson said during a recent Zoom roundtable. "It was an interesting way to help show the audience what teachers do before school even starts."

In the season premiere, teachers Janine (Brunson), Barbara (Sheryl Lee Ralph), Gregory (Tyler James Williams), Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter) and Jacob (Chris Perfetti) get ready for the new school year. Barbara learns that she will have a student who uses a wheelchair, and she looks for an accessible desk.


"When something like a disability comes into play, what does that mean for someone like Barbara who wants to do the most for her students but isn't being helped?" Brunson said.

Season 1 of the ABC comedy showed how the teachers at an underfunded Philadelphia school struggle to meet their students' needs. Brunson, who won an Emmy on Sept. 12 for writing the pilot, said she wanted to include representation for disabilities this season.

"A lot of people in this country have disabilities," Brunson said. "All of them aren't visible, but most people know someone -- are one degree away from someone -- with a disability."

The new student arrives in Barbara's kindergarten class at the end of the season premiere. Ralph, 65, who won an Emmy for her performance, said she works with the young actor, who was not credited in the episodes available to media, throughout the season.

"This was such a leap for him to be in a classroom with other kids [and] to really try and free himself from his mother," Ralph said. "As much as I'm acting, I am really learning so much and I love it for my character."

Ralph said she also valued how including the student gave more wheelchair users an opportunity to see themselves represented.


"I love it for the student, who has probably thought, 'Well, how come I never see myself on TV?'" Ralph said. "Well, he's now there front and center and we're all adapting to his wheelchair access. It's wonderful to give that student access, literally."

Walter, 59, whose character teaches her own class of second-graders, said she met the young actor playing Barbara's new student, too, and was impressed.

"He's got such an active imagination," Walter said. "A big reason why people are enjoying the show and watching intergenerationally [is] because they're just real kids."

Season 2 introduces Imani (Makenzie Lee-Foster) to Jacob's second-grade. Jacob uses American Sign Language to communicate with Imani, but Brunson said she hasn't specified whether Imani is deaf.

"It's just that maybe sign language is her better way of communication," Brunson said. "It's very helpful to have a teacher like Jacob who knows sign language and can maybe communicate with her a little bit better than most people."

Although Jacob knows ASL, Perfetti, 33, said it was new to him. He said he learned it for the show.

Brunson said she included ASL in Abbott Elementary as a way to highlight its usefulness among hearing and non-hearing students.


"I feel like ASL is something that everyone should learn," Brunson said. "It should be taught in American schools."

Abbott Elementary airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EDT on ABC and streams on Hulu.

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