So a disabled stand up comedian named Lost Voice Guy won this year’s Britain’s Got Talent, which is a fantastic achievement by all accounts considering all the logistic obstacles that LVG would have had to endure and pass to get to this stage. But let’s all get a bit of a reality check before we go wild with expectations that are likely to be futile.
Seeing headlines saying that LVG’s win is a triumph for all disabled people or that it is a watershed moment for disability might excites some who share the same belief, but for me I know it will likely be a hyped up occasion that will soon be forgotten or simply not built up upon.
Who can forget when Cerrie Burnell joined CBeebies and within a month of her beginning co-presenting, she attracted controversy from parents complaining that the one-armed presenter was scaring children, and prompting difficult conversations to explain her disability. In fact, how many disabled people on TV can any of us name? Yes, we can’t deny that the number of disabled people is slightly increasing but what role do they serve? Are they there to fill a certain quota, so that it can be said they have a disabled person in their organisation.
I remember when it was announced that Lisa Hammond would be joining Eastenders as the first regular disabled character, I was so excited and thought things were finally changing. How wrong I was. The character was not developed enough. She was never given a big storyline and in one episode she brought up seven disability issues crammed into a four minute scene - and we never got to hear about these issues ever again. On the other hand, Hammond did not get a non-disability related story either and when she finally was given a love interest, it was the character of Robbie, the square’s ultimate loser. It felt is though they thought that’s all she could ‘realistically’ achieve. So in the end Hammond’s character did not serve either the disabled community or the actress. Was her character of Donna merely a token?
The other notable TV personalities are Coronation Street’s Cherylee Houston, a wheelchair user, and Liam Bairstow, who has downs syndrome. Again they can’t be regarded as other big name characters and their presence is usually part of another person’s story, except from one self focused plot once every few years. Why is that?
People think that the media will suddenly change because LVG got the public vote and won BGT. But have we not been here before, where the public loves a certain disabled comedian or actor such as Mik Scarlet or Francesca Martinez, yet this did not guarantee them continuity in the media world.
If big media companies still have a gender pay gap and diversity, then the road is long for disabled people to achieve representation equal to that of non-disabled people on TV. So let’s all calm down and enjoy the win as an individual achievement rather than a big game changer for the entire disabled community.
*The blog was first published on Careless on 5th June