Here’s something I’ve been hearing a lot of these days:
“I see people with disabilities on TV all the time. There’s that women in a wheelchair on East Enders.”
“Have you seen that disabled actor on East Enders? That’s really something.”
“You must be really happy to see that person with a disability on East Enders. Success!”
I don’t watch End Enders. As someone who didn’t grow up in the UK, it’s really hard to get into. There’s a hole history and context within British soaps which makes it very hard for me to even begin to make a comment on. I do know this Donna Yates, is not the first regular character with a disability to be on the show. Actually, that honor belongs to Adam Best played by David Proud. Somehow we’ve all forgotten that.
While there should be a character with a disability on East Enders, the fact that people are now pointing to that character and saying “done” worries me. What about the plethora of other soaps we broadcast in the UK. When are we going to see a hot girl in a tank top on Hollyoaks with a white cane? What about a deaf radiologist on Doctors?
I get it, we have to start somewhere and East Enders is one of the most visible shows in the UK so now that both the BBC and Channel 4 are setting new standards in diversity, it is a great place to start. But producers and audience members alike must not point to a single character on a single show and say “inclusion accomplished.”
Take your favourite show and ask yourself: what is the likelihood that in a community of this size, there wouldn’t be a single person with a visible disability. We need to start seeing people with disabilities in every show, either as featured characters or as actors, because that’s what our society looks like. If media wants to find a few well placed people with disabilities and say “done,” then they are not representing society and we need to find better media leaders.