We’ve seen a lot of recent progress regarding representation of disabilities in the media.
Not so long ago there was little evidence in mainstream TV shows. But that’s changing - perceptions and stereotypes are being challenged gradually.
The biggest show in the world for the past few years, Breaking Bad, featured a lead character (and actor) with cerebral palsy. Teen hit, Glee, had a paraplegic lead character (which the actor wasn’t) and a cheerleader with Downs Syndrome. And everybody’s favourite dragon-fest, Game of Thrones, stars Peter Dinklage as the dwarf Tyrion Lannister. (Dinklage is also a little guy. It’s pretty difficult to fake).
Examples are increasing and if you go looking you’ll find them. What is harder to find, though, is the same level of high-profile representation in children’s television.
There definitely are some: the world’s most popular (yet shockingly underqualified) doctor, Doc McStuffins, made a wheelchair for a disabled pal in one episode.
Extreme Ghostbusters went a step further in challenging stereotypes by making one of their team an adrenaline-junkie, thrill-seeking wheelchair user.
On this side of the Atlantic, the BBC does a pretty good job at bringing the issue into the mainstream on its Cbeebies programming, probably because the broadcaster has social responsibility remit to fulfil.
They have a show called Something Special, where the presenters communicate using Makaton and the show targets all children in the early stages of language and speech development. That’s the type of special needs participation we particularly like.
Cbeebies even has a disabled presenter – Cerrie Burnell was born with only one fully-formed arm. Her introduction caused a bit of controversy when she got the job, with some parents making the claim that their children would be ‘scared’ of her disability and it would force them to have conversations with which the parents themselves felt uncomfortable .
And there’s where we see a problem. The parents said they would be scared and uncomfortable, not the kids themselves. The parents in many cases (although not necessarily all) could be accused of projecting their own fears and prejudices onto their children. And children will carry those messages with them.
As big advocates of early participation, we know that a child’s mind is very impressionable and that some of the seeds sown in those early years will grow deep roots.
We think that makes it absolutely essential that disability is represented properly on kids TV, even more so than on programmes for adults. Adults show already know better than to judge and discriminate, but children's minds are a clean slate and they emulate those around them as they grow.
So let’s have more examples of disabled characters on kids TV and make sure the future generations are more accepting than ours.
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