'Bridgerton' season 3 captures disability, neurodiversity in regency era

"Bridgerton" showrunner also said she hopes to explore LGBTQ storylines.

June 13, 2024, 4:11 AM

When "Bridgerton" showrunner Jess Brownell and her team started production on season 3 of the hit Netflix and Shondaland show, they say they were "very intentional" about inclusivity.

Disability representation has played a larger, celebrated role this season for that very reason.

"Especially on the show, which has a reputation for being so inclusive, I want to continuously expand that so that more people can see themselves represented in our world," Brownell told "Good Morning America" in an interview.

Viewers may have noticed Lord Remington, played by disabled actor Zak Ford-Williams, who uses a historically accurate wheelchair on the show. "The wheelchair that you see is what a wheelchair looks like in that time," Brownell said.

Or perhaps they noticed Miss Dolores Stowell, played by Kitty Devlin, who uses British Sign Language to communicate with her mother.

Making the sign language historically accurate was a bigger challenge, Brownell said. There wasn't a standardized sign language in the early 1800s in Britain, according to University College London.

Instead, families used home sign language, which families themselves would have created and passed on through generations, Brownell added.

"Bridgerton" writers instead opted for modern British Sign Language, leaning into the ability for audiences to "see themselves represented in a way that they could connect to," Brownell added.

Victor Alli as John Stirling and Hannah Dodd as Francesca Bridgerton are shown in an episode of "Bridgerton."
Laim Daniel/Netflix

Some viewers also speculated whether Francesca Bridgerton and her love interest, Lord Kilmartin, were neurodivergent -- a question writers asked themselves in the writers room, according to Brownell.

Brownell said she's pretty accurately adapted from the novel series from author Julia Quinn -- a deep love for music, introverted, overwhelmed by the chaos of the Bridgerton household.

"To be honest, when we started crafting her character in the room, we didn't set out from the very beginning to create a neurodivergent character, and we didn't try to diagnose her in any way," said Brownell.

Hannah Dodd as Francesca Bridgerton is shown in an episode of "Bridgerton."
Liam Daniel/Netflix

She continued, "But all of us in the room, as we delved deeper into her character, went: 'These do feel like neurodivergent traits."

Brownell and her team questioned whether Quinn intended to write a character that could be read as neurodivergent.

"The fact that people are seeing themselves in her and recognizing her as someone who seems neurodivergent, I think that's wonderful," she said.

Adjoa Andoh as Lady Agatha Danbury and Daniel Francis as Lord Anderson are shown in an episode of "Bridgerton."
Liam Daniel/Netflix

The "Bridgerton" universe has regularly tackled disability representation, including Lady Danbury's use of a cane and King George's experience with mental illness.

But the show is not just embracing disability representation onscreen. It is also ensuring the show itself is accessible by providing open audio descriptions and open captions available in 14 different languages.

One of the show's key producers, Sarah Fischer, is a co-founder of the 1in4 Coalition, an "intersectional coalition of disabled creatives," according to the group's website, who help ensure that disability representation in media is honest and accurate.

One in 4 adults in the U.S. have some type of disability, the CDC states -- around 27% of the population. But statistics show that they make up less than 1% of onscreen visible representation, according to 2022 data from research group Nielsen.

Brownell said the team worked with consultants from the 1in4 Coalition in creating the new characters.

Hannah Dodd arrives for the launch of 'Bridgerton' Season 3 Part 2, in London, on June 12, 2024.
Isabel Infantes/Reuters

"I remember the first time I got to sit in on a fan screening, and I don't know if there were deaf audience members, but the reaction to seeing the sign language between Miss Stowell and her mother, there was an audible reaction," said Brownell. "That's what I want every audience member to feel. It's so important to see ourselves on screen. TV is a portal to believing in a bigger life and to imagining possibilities. So it's been really, really heartening to see."

The 1in4 Coalition applauded the "Bridgerton" team's efforts to make the show and set more inclusive in an Instagram post back in May, not long after the season 3 premiere.

"Thank you Shondaland team, which includes 1IN4 co-founder Sara Fischer, for including disability representation in the series and making sets accessible!" the group wrote.

Moving forward, Brownell said the "Bridgerton" team plans to make space to expand on and feature queer and disabled characters as well.

"I want to do that in a bigger way, not just with side stories," Brownell said. "I think that it is so important for people to see themselves represented, and especially on a show that is about the way the different ways in which people love, it only feels right to include queer love."