By Lori Berkey, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury- Fifteen years ago, Robbin Miller was fed up with the way people with disabilities were portrayed in mainstream media as heroes rather than as people who were living their lives like everyone else. A busy licensed mental health counselor, Miller made time to start a show on Shrewsbury Media Connection's Public Access Channel 28 that would project people with disabilities in a more even light, raise awareness about resources, and teach people how to be “disability sensitive.” She's been hosting the program, “Miller Chat Show,” that airs five times weekly, ever since.
As host, Miller sought out guests who could speak on a range of related issues. She conducted scores of skilled interviews with them to provide a wide spectrum of information to the community via the show dialogues. Program topics ranged from Sjogren's Syndrome, a chronic autoimmune disease, to mental health stigma.
While some shows were resource-driven, others were high on challenging the hero conception. One episode Miller recalled as ringing true to her show mission was when advocates Joe Billil and Mike Kennedy presented “Survival Tips for Managing the Snow and Cold,” and “Enjoying Spring.”
“Here,” Miller said, “viewers saw how real persons with disabilities lived the same issues as able-bodied people during the winter months.”
Another memorable clip for Miller was a show in 2005 with Sonya Perduta for the group Rights for the Dignity of the Disabled. The segment, “Promoting Olmstead: The Need for Community-based Programs and Services,” took Miller and Perduta three months of research. They gathered material for the show by interviewing and hearing the stories of people who were formerly in nursing homes who moved back into the community.
“Due to the large amount of video shots we took over a period of a few months,” Miller said, “it took about 100 hours of editing to pare down to a 28-minute program. This show won an award from the Alliance of Community Media for Disability Awareness in 2006.”
Throughout the 15 years Miller has hosted the show, she believed the theme remained relevant.
“I felt the same issues affecting persons with disabilities such as the lack of access for new or renovated playgrounds, stores, apartments and healthcare facilities are ongoing concerns that are not going away,” she said. “When we think we have made progress in educating the communities about the importance of equal access and accessibility, there seems to be bumps in the road that pop up from time to time.”
But during the span Miller has been doing the show, she became a mother and her goals have expanded. She plans to continue doing shows once a month, but now wants to focus on issues affecting families.
As the parent of an active and smart little boy, Miller said she's learned how parents, especially mothers, still face some of the issues their mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers faced.
“I am observing how Betty Friedan's theory of the Feminine Mystique is still alive and well not only for stay-at-home moms, but also for working moms as well,” Miller said. “Both groups are still expected to take care of the home and raise their children as the primary caretakers despite advances in technology and in social media.”
Miller's future shows are headed for a strong following. She's already got one huge fan: her young son, EJ, who loves to call out “That's Mommy,” when Miller sits with him to watch a few minutes of Miller Chat with him once a week.
Miller said she's grateful to Doris Livesay, who co-hosted the show with her for five years, and to Shrewsbury Media Connection's staff who helped make the Miller Chat Show a success.