October 16, 2017
Perhaps the name Geri Jewell doesn’t immediately ring a bell with you. Maybe if you saw a picture it’d take you back to the time that you first saw her on television. Maybe if you’re part of the LGBTQ community you have heard of her for a whole other reason. Whatever the case may be, Geri Jewell wears a lot of hats, as she is a motivational speaker, an actress and an author, and oh yes, she has Cerebral Palsy too.
Geraldine Ann Jewell was born on September 13, 1956 in Buffalo, New York. Just because she was afflicted with Cerebral Palsy, though, didn’t mean that she wouldn’t chase her dreams of being an actress. In fact, when she debuted on The Facts of Life in 1980, she was the first person with a disability to have a role in a prime time series. She played Geri Tyler– cousin Geri is how we knew her and she had that role for four years.
Cousin Geri may have been the first time many people saw someone with a disability interact with others as the story lines played out. For many the Facts of Life was a touchstone show where you could relate to the characters and see your own problems played out by the characters. If you didn’t have a friend or family member with a disability, Geri may have been the first person that you saw fully functioning and playing her part in the story. There was nothing to be scared, embarrassed or ashamed about; she was simply a differently abled member of the group. Her being part of the cast brought those with disabilities hope because if she could do it, why couldn’t they?
Cousin Geri left The Facts of Life in 1984 but Geri Jewell the actress went on to play parts in The New Lassie, 21 Jumpstreet, Young and the Restless, Strong Medicine, Alcatraz, Sesame Street, Glee and many others. She also found time to write two books and is a motivational speaker for both those with disabilities and those who are in the LGBTQ community. She has worked with different branches of government and many organizations, lending her voice for advocacy and change.
Geri Jewell won the 1992 Founders Award and was the recipient of the 2005 Independent Living Legacy Award and today you can still catch her acting and speaking around the country. Disability? What disability? Geri Jewell shows us that if you set your mind to it, you can achieve it!