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Finding Dory and Disability

Posted July 12, 2016

Finding Dora and Disability by Ridge Zeller Therapy

Ridge Zeller Therapy's, Sarah Jordan Strong, M.S., CCC-SLP, shares insights on disability in the film 'Finding Dory', Pixars sequel to 'Finding Nemo': 

Finding Dory and Disability

A Positive Depiction of Disability on the Big Screen

If you have kids, work with kids, or are generally ever around kids at all, you’re probably aware that 'Finding Dory', Pixar’s sequel to 'Finding Nemo', is a huge hit with the younger crowd this summer.

What you may not know is that the film is a rare positive depiction of disability on the big screen.

'Dory' follows the adventures of Nemo’s pal Dory, a blue tang fish with short-term memory deficits. Despite her memory failing every ten seconds or so, Dory knows that she has been separated from her parents and the movie follows her adventures as she tries to find them.

Movie buffs may have noticed that, more often than not, the portrayal of people with disabilities in films is pretty dismal. They tend to be either objects of pity or humor, or insipidly inspirational cardboard cutouts who exist only to teach non-disabled people valuable life lessons about overcoming adversity.

The film 'Finding Dory' offers is a refreshing change of pace. In addition to Dory, with her short-term memory loss, the film depicts an amputee “Septopus,” a whale shark with vision deficits.

Meet Hank the Septopus:

Then there is Bailey the beluga who temporarily lost echolocation due to a head injury. Together, they all help Dory reach her goal of finding her parents.

Because positive portrayals of characters with disabilities are so uncommon, this film presents a great opportunity for parents of kids with disabilities to have a constructive dialogue.

In fact, the mother of one of my speech therapy clients recently shared an amazing article by disability activist Alice Wong with me that I’d like to pass on to anyone looking for a good conversational starting point.

This article (which contains spoilers about the movie, so heads up ;) discusses a variety of topics including representation, bullying, and collective access.

What is Collective Access?

Collective access, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a phrase describing people with various disabilities working together, incorporating their various strengths to increase access locations and services.

Thus, needs of various members of the group can be met more easily than if each person tried to accomplish things individually.

It’s a powerful concept in that it recognizes the competence, agency, and unique perspectives of people with disabilities, rather than focusing on the ways in which they may not easily fit into society.

The idea of collective access shows up repeatedly in Dory, which is a big part of why the film is so powerful.

Starting a Dialogue About Disabilities

While the scenes of bullying are upsetting and may open up good conversations about the challenges faced by kids with disabilities, the overall tone of the film is positive.

It reflects the idea that people with disabilities possess strength, agency, and the ability to organize in pursuit of their interests and goals. This is a message we could all benefit from thinking about.

Children Can Relate to Characters in Finding Dory

I’m noticing that quite a few of my young clients relate strongly to the characters in the movie, although they may not have the language to explain why.

One client with memory issues told me he was having trouble with a task because of his “Dory brain.”

It makes me happy to see kids find characters they can connect to and understand, and I hope the success of Dory will inspire the producers of other kids’ movies to include characters with disabilities.


If you’ve taken your kids to see Dory, or plan to do so, this is a great opportunity not only to enjoy a fun, feel-good film, but to start an important conversation with your family.

What are your thoughts on Dory and the subject of disability? Feel free to contribute to the conversation and leave a comment below!

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