Michael McEwan writes for the magazine Learning Disability Today and presents a weekly show on Able Radio, an online station created to give a voice to people with disabilities. The Able Academy are now also providing training for people with learning disabilities in presenting, producing and gaining ICT skills. Michael blogs for us today about the inclusion and visibility of people with disabilities in the media…
The media is such a big part our lives now it’s hard to get away from, whether it’s radio, TV, newspapers, magazines or online content and it can be a good way to raise the profile for disability issues. Back in 1992 disability campaigners were in the position where they had to protest en masse outside London Weekend Television studios, unhappy at the pitiful stereotypes of people with disabilities they were using in charity appeal films for the ITV telethon. The protests got huge media attention and the telethon was scrapped. The campaigners had made it clear that people with disabilities were sick of being portrayed that way. Media representation has certainly moved on since then and I would like to talk about some of the more positive examples that are out there.
In Summer 2012 Channel 4 was the home of the Paralympic coverage and they did a good job, filming more then 500 hours of all day every day coverage. The Paralympics did much to bring positive change to the way disability is perceived, and also gave an opportunity to see people with a disability in front of the camera presenting. Also at this time Channel 4 had a show call The Last Leg , featuring a mix of comedy, guests and Paralympics highlights. The show received strong reviews and regularly pulled in more then a million viewers. The host, Adam Hills, is a stand up comedian from Sydney who was born without a right foot and wears a prosthesis – a frequent source of comedy in his act. Adam’s co-host Alex Brooker was born with hand and arm disabilities while the third member of the team, Josh Widdicombe, has no disability. It’s great to see positive role models on mainstream TV, achieving great things.
The same year Channel 4 created a pilot reality documentary called The Undateables. I wasn’t a fan of the title of the show as we can all have a romance or friendship if we wish. The programme follows people with a wide range of different disabilities through the highs and lows of finding love. The series was nominated for a BAFTA TV award in 2014 and the viewing figures were so good the show is still on. Some of the soaps have also included disability storylines over the past few years, with Eastenders and Emmerdale both featuring the birth of children with Down’s Syndrome.
While we have definitely moved on from the protests outside television studios in 1992, there is still plenty of work to be done and it will be interesting to see where media representation of disability goes in the future.