These superheroes give children with disabilities the representation they deserve

A new team of superheroes shows children with disabilities how unstoppable they really are.

Team Supreme, an animated cartoon concept by Atlanta native Josh Leonard, features a cast of superheroes with disabilities who band together to take on various bad guys. Each member of Team Supreme has an individual superpower that makes them a key part of the group — and those powers are tied to their disabilities.

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“I chose to focus on [kids with disabilities] because it hasn’t been done yet,” Leonard says. “It was simple for me, really. My cartoon is needed.”

Leonard was inspired to create Team Supreme after noticing that the children with disabilities in his life didn’t have superheroes that reflected their lives and resilience. He wanted these children, many of whom are the kids of his friends, to be able to see themselves and their experiences with disability reflected unapologetically in a cartoon.

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“I wanted to create characters with an amazing, compelling story that was also cool enough to where the kids could not only relate to these characters but also like and appreciate them,” Leonard writes on his website.

“It was simple for me, really. My cartoon is needed.”

The main character of Team Supreme is an autistic boy named Zeek, who has the power to slow time down to a snail’s pace. His superpower is inspired by “splinter skills,” which allow some autistic people to retain large amounts of information in no time at all.

Leonard says this skill has always struck him as a real-life superpower.

Other members of Team Supreme include Thumper, who was born prematurely and has hearing loss; Shock, who was hit by a car and lost his arm; Li, who was born blind; Red, who lives with albinism; and Mech, who became paralyzed after surviving polio.

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Each member of the team has a particular skill that hinges on their experience with their respective disability identity. Li, for example, has the power of supersonic hearing, though no eyesight. And Shock has a prosthetic arm that transforms into different tools to help him take on even the toughest of villains.

Though Leonard doesn’t have a disability himself, he says he’s tapped into the community to ensure he’s accurately representing children with a wide range of disability identities. He drew inspiration for Team Supreme from those same children of his friends — kids who live with conditions like autism and albinism, who aren’t usually represented in cartoons or TV.

Leonard says he spent time with these children, as well as adults with disabilities, in order to observe and note unique aspects of their lives and mannerisms that related to their disabilities. These meticulous notes, individual to each disability identity, have made their way into Leonard’s early-stage animations and character concepts.

“When I would take notes of different people, [people with the same disability] would all have at least one of the same traits,” he says. “Those are the characteristics I would choose to focus on to make my characters as true as possible.”

Leonard is still in concept stages of the show, creating initial animations to imagine each character’s movements. He’s done all this work between his full-time job and going to school for animation.

But he hopes to shop the concept around in the near future, and hopefully get some big names interested in the value of inclusion.

Leonard plans to launch a Kickstarter at the end of May, with a goal of raising $25,000 to create an episode of Team Supreme, and pitch it to Netflix.

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