Depicting disability on television

I thought this was a thoughtful post on depicting disability on television, from Frances Ryan in the Guardian:

To a certain extent, shows tackling disability have it tough. Thanks to entrenched societal attitudes and sensitive dispositions, short of burrowing into each viewer’s brain with an anti-patronisation drill bit, it’s inevitable some will watch even the best depictions of disability and feel that irksome sensation of pity or inspiration. But while it’s tough, it isn’t impossible – and too often it feels like what we see isn’t even trying. Programmes will tend to get into trouble when their message is that their subject has done well not to top themselves. Avoiding this is a good start. And as simple as it sounds, it’s a criteria plenty of shows depicting disability are unable to meet.

A while ago I suggested that Gok Wan’s “How to look good naked… with a difference” presented disability issues in a microcosm, centering around one single question: should his television series including disabled people be a separate series or part of the usual series run?

As I concluded then, and in line with Frances’s conclusion above:

In the short term, and at this point in time, I’m inclined to think programmes like his are a useful way of enabling people to engage with issues regarding disability that this country, in general, has not done well with. I wish that it weren’t so, and I absolutely recognise that the “separate but equal” approach it suggests in the short term is no principle that achieves long-term equality.

But it’s what we’ve got for now, and it’s what we’ve got to build from.


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Man of letters & numbers; also occasionally of action. Husband to NTW. Dad of three. Friendly geek.

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