Latecomers: First In, But Best Dressed?


Effort counts, but so does accuracy, writes Jerusha Mather. There’s much to commend about SBS Australia’s ground-breaking new series Latecomers, but….

Amid the applause for Latecomers, a new SBS series that delves into the romantic escapades of two individuals with disabilities in the pre-Christmas glow, my heart harboured a touch of disappointment. While the show possessed moments of undeniable beauty and heartfelt emotion, certain aspects fell short of accurately representing the lived experiences of people with disabilities.

To be clear, Latecomers is by no means a subpar production. The performances were commendable, and scenes like Elliot and Sarah’s beachside encounter were nothing short of heroic and deeply moving. However, I found some elements disconcerting, compelling me to address them here to ensure we do not perpetuate biases.

In the realm of reality, support workers or caregivers are bound by strict professional guidelines that discourage them from engaging in romantic relationships with their clients or their friends. Latecomers portrays instances of caregivers crossing these boundaries, which, from my perspective, felt uneasy.

Personally, when I embark on dates, I value privacy and professionalism. I typically request my support workers to grant me some space and pick me up when the date concludes. This professional boundary empowers my choices and independence.

Moreover, the series missed an opportunity to present a more comprehensive portrayal of cerebral palsy. For instance, I too have cerebral palsy and thoroughly enjoy activities such as swimming. My outlook on life is one of positivity, and I hold the belief that love will find its way into my life.

I am socially aware, intelligent, organized, and fiercely independent – qualities that I believe will be cherished by my future partner. Unfortunately, Latecomers failed to showcase this facet of disability. Instead, it presented a somewhat negative and demeaning view, particularly through the character of Frank.

Frank’s lack of social awareness and emotional intelligence does not accurately represent males with cerebral palsy, most of whom are polite, gentle, and respectful towards women.

The title Latecomers carries a harsh and derogatory implication, suggesting that people with disabilities are tardy in entering romantic relationships. In reality, we undergo the same experiences as anyone else during puberty, with the same emotions and desires. There is no need to label us as latecomers; we deserve the right to explore our feelings in a healthy and unrestricted manner, just like anyone else. We yearn for travel and the creation of cherished memories. It is disheartening to see us portrayed in this manner.

While Latecomers is certainly a commendable show, it falls short of providing a comprehensive view of disability. I am eager to witness more mainstream productions featuring people with disabilities. It is high time we extend them an open invitation to the table, as diversity is increasingly celebrated in our society.

On a personal note, I have taken a significant stride by joining JR Management as a fashion model, singer, and actor, with the aim of challenging the lack of representation. I understand the challenges of being heard in an industry that sometimes harbours biases among producers and community members. However, this is unacceptable, and the time has come for transformative justice.

Fashion model, singer, and actor Jerusha Mather.

Change must begin in our generation. It is time for individuals with visible disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, to be portrayed accurately in dramas like Family Reunion and Home and Away, as well as in reality TV shows like Married at First Sight and The Bachelorette. I have even made a personal commitment to become Australia’s first bachelorette with a visible disability – a journey that I am excited to embark upon.

To be clear, my intention is not to vilify Latecomers. It undeniably had moments that touched my soul profoundly. However, I also encountered elements that left me with a sense of disappointment.

No TV show is without its flaws, but I hold hope for a future where individuals with disabilities are included and afforded the same opportunities as everyone else. Their portrayal should not fundamentally differ; fairness and inclusivity should be the guiding principles.

I envision a world where a 16-year-old with cerebral palsy can confidently believe that someone will love her for who she truly is. Let us not allow the world to fill her with self-doubt and false narratives. Instead, let us enhance media representation to demonstrate that she can be her authentic self while enjoying shows like Stranger Things on Netflix.

I have shared these thoughts with the aim of fostering clarity and providing an objective perspective on disability. My intention is not to criticize a show with numerous merits, but rather to shed light on these issues. Constructive critique often paves the path to improvement and a better world for all.

Jerusha Mather, currently pursuing her PhD at Victoria University, focuses on strength training and non-invasive brain stimulation in adults with cerebral palsy. Jerusha's dedication to this research earned her a career development grant from the Cerebral Palsy Alliance. She has also been recognized with the Bridge Create Change Award and participation in the prestigious L'Oréal -UNESCO Women in Science mentee program. In addition to her academic achievements, Jerusha is an inspirational motivational speaker and poet. She recently published a poetry collection titled 'Burnt Bones and Beautiful Butterflies.' A prominent disability activist, she advocates for medical students with disabilities, inclusive immigration, and accessible packaging and fashion. Her contributions have not gone unnoticed; the Australian Academy of Sciences has acknowledged her as one of the STEM change makers. Furthermore, Jerusha's portrait graces Questacon, the National Science Centre, as one of the most outstanding female role models in medicine. Her petition on advocating for increased accessible packaging garnered over 13,000 signatures. In her leisure time, Jerusha enjoys music and traveling.