Is Television the last bastion of disability discrimination?

Susan Boyle walked onto the Britains Got Talent stage in 2009 and changed everything.This dowdy lady drew cackles and cynicism from the crowd and then she replaced that with gasps and a standing ovation.

It wasn’t a well thought out political speech, or a groundbreaking medical innovation which changed things.

This unassuming lady simply sang a song.

She inspired the collective hairs to rise on the necks on almost everyone who watched her.

Then the cynics began to carp. “She’s a gurning, gaffawing fool” they cried. “She can’t sing that well” they griped. “She’s a hairy angel” they winged.

When details of her life emerged they really went to town.

“She’s learning disabled? Well then she has no place in a reality tv show and she’s being exploited.”

That’s when I got really cross.

The cynics who decried her lack of glamour were predictable.

We live in an age where television stars have to fit a mold, indeed they seem to emerge from some kind of botox/collagen/sillicone injected mold. They arrive normal then they’re buffed and smoothed and packaged and styled and away they go.

I shudder at the notion that our teenagers attempt to aspire to be these demi-gods.

Waif like singers and actors sporting artificially enhanced chests(boys and girls) supported by skeletial frames are sadly the norm now.

But we are spoonfed these images and any deviation, like the ageing of our female presenters is dealt with by the swift admission of a p45 in the post.

It’s The Stepford wives a-go-go. Sure enough the older highly experienced, female presenter is bundled into a bag marked reject and little Miss Perky Pants slips into her still warm seat -next to (it has to be said) a gnarled old bloke who had the good fortune to be born male.

“Hey I don’t make the rules” breathes little Miss Perky Pants.

No you don’t broadcasters do.

They focus group themselves stupid chasing ratings. It was all going swimmingly. Any dissenting voices are silenced with a well timed “Oh you’re just jealous, We’re just giving the public what they want”

What? Do you mean us when you say the public?

Enter Miss Boyle.

She gave us what we want. Talent.

Talent we knew comes in many forms. All Susan Boyle did was show broadcasters and programme makers that the public don’t discriminate. The public live in the real world which is populated by people of all forms of ability, beauty, age and talent.

We don’t live in a TV demographic of 15-25 year olds.

There are 8 million disabled people in this country.

Yet they’re not routinely represented by advertisers or in TV storylines, unless it’s as a victim or “sufferer”.

I’m bored of the pity piece where a disabled character appears only to be saved or helped or pitied and then disappears.

I want disabled people to be featured routinely where the least interesting thing about them is their disability.

Just like in life.

We all know someone with a disability yet apart from Susan Boyle and a couple of other notable exceptions(The excellent ground breaking Cast Offs, David Proud-Eastenders, Cerrie Burnell-Cbeebies,) they are barely represented on TV or in the media at all really.

In my case disability is a very real part of my life. So in November I launched a campaign Don’t play me, pay me calling for greater representaion of disabled people on TV and particularly for the practice of playing disabled by able bodied people to stop.

If you have talent you should have the opportunity to showcase that talent. Just because you don’t fit into a box which you had no part in creating shouldn’t be a barrier for that talent.

Susan Boye showed us that whether learning disabled or physically disabled or not, It’s a human right to dream and make that dream a reality.

Isn’t it a dream for everyone?








  1. Ageing tart

    This article is very appealing, and I agree we should see an end to descrimination against people who have alternative abilities.

    I also think ageism is the next big one that needs hitting squarely on the head.

    Why should our tv programmes favour the young more than the middle-aged or the old. Like society if you have a soap that is based upon life, you have to have a good mix of ages and all kinds of people to play the parts. 

    Sadly sometimes the roles people get seem to be short lived or in the background.

    The current trend towards the young and the air brushed media image is totally false and its time to start showing what real life looks like with all its warts and all.


    Ageing tart

  2. elasticboysmum

    I have three boys with autism and one of them is a dancer and goes to competitions every weekend all over the country…when he applied to go on got to dance on sky1..there was an outcry fromt he media…could he cope witht he pressure…of course he can..just as well as anyone else out there..better than most..he is a performer and he lives to dance and perform. I was angry that his disability was the one thing the press focused on rather than his ability. My son was angry too. All he wants is to be accepted and treated like everyone else.  He doesnt want special treatment.  He appeared in a documentray on bbc three about his autism and his dancing and he put it so aptly at the end of the documentray, ” I want to be known as the kid who DESPITE having autism, he was a great dancer!” For him the autism is something he has to live with daily, he doesnt need to be reminded..and he certainly doesnt need people putting limitations on him because of his disability. He has as much right to dance and perform as anyone else and he should be judged for his dancing ability not his autism.  He can take critisism and is used to pressure due to his dance competitions and he doesnt always get the placing he wants.  He doesnt always make those big finals..but he has learned to live with disappointment. He is one tough cookie and not as fragile as people assume. His dream is to be a famous ballet dancer one day and if he is to chase that dream he will have to get used to rejection and disappointment…it is all part of the real world. He should be allowed to experience that!

    1. Ageing tart

      I would just like you to know from the bottom of my heart I wish your son well and hope he achieves what he has set out to do.

      I dislike and detest descrimination but have been a victim myself since turning 30 eighteen years ago.

      In the world of entertainment even in a regional capacity I have experienced being told that I’m not in the age group they would be looking for when it comes to roles , I have taken the sensible option of course and never applied for a role I knowingly can’t pull off because of age. For instance if anyone likes musical theatre you shouldn’t be more than 10 – 20 years away from the charater you have to play. But the older you are than it stands to reason you won’t get selected.

      For example a teenager of say 18 can be played really well by someone who is 26 or 28 but 36 or 38 is pushing it. Make up can do all sorts of fab things to the face but a 38 year old does not move in the same way as a 26 year old or 18 year old, and personally there’s not a great deal you can do about the ageing process.

      Recording voice wise though provided a singer has kept her voice healthy a female young role can be sung by a  healthy soprano aged 40 or more. I speak here of Kiri Te Kanewa who has recorded and done the concert version of Maria from West Side Story with Placido Domingo as Tony back in the 1980’s. These two singers sang these parts under the direction of Bernstein himself and sang them so well, it was as if they were teenagers. Yet they were both over 40 when they did the television programme, the concert and the live recording.

      Helen Mirren once said that 40 – 60 was a really awkward age to be if you were an actress/actor or singer, and it is. In actual fact her own career suffered during this twenty year period and only picked up again once she’d reached retirement years at 60.

      The problem for many artists is that they try so hard in all the years they have when they get to around 30 some often give up, because its not happening in the way they felt it should or not happening because the half million promises or more have not been kept.

      You get to my age and you know its not going to happen for you despite being a professional experienced singer in your region. So you plod on taking what work you can get, but sadly you know that one day when you are dead and gone whatever music you have covered will have died with you. All because of ageism.

      Ageism is also the biggest form of descrimination when it comes to employment.

      It is bigger than any descrimination levied at those with disabilities, as employers have to make allowances and arrangements for the disabled. Employers with over a certain number of employees have to employ a percentage of people with disabilites.

      A few years ago the Government were going to make it legislation for employers with over a certain number of employees to employ people in a certain percentage who were of ethnic origin.  

      No legislation exists for anyone over the age of 25, to insist that employers should employ them.

      Ageism remains the biggest form of descrimination.


      Ageing tart.


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