2018 – A big year for disability
The new year has rolled in and this often brings reflection on the year that has passed, ups and downs alike. In a recent interview with Britain’s Got Talent winner Lee Ridley, better known as Lost Voice Guy, he talked with the BBC about how he felt that 2018 was a ‘big year for disability’. We can’t help but agree with him. 2018 was a year that saw an increase in the visibility of disabled peoples in the media in a truly positive way. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the highlights from last year.
We couldn’t start this list without mentioning Lee himself. It was a big year for Britain’s Got Talent, with a handful of the acts in the competition featuring people with disabilities including a child singer with autism, a dancer who became a wheelchair user after the Manchester bombings, and of course, the top two favourites to win, Robert White (who came second place) and Lee Ridley. Robert, the runner up of last year’s show, is a musical comic who has Asperger’s Syndrome. The winner of last year’s show Lee Ridley was not only the first comic to win the competition but has cerebral palsy and tells his jokes through the use of an iPad and voice syntheseser. His victory was seen as a momentous moment for the disabled community.
Strictly Come Dancing
Strictly was another great example of the increase in representation of disabled peoples last year in the public media. The show saw two contestants who drew attention, the first of which was Katie Piper, acid attack survivor and founder of the Katie Piper Foundation, a foundation dedicated to improving the lives of those living with burns and scars. Piper, who left the show in week four, signed up to the show to prove that the mental and physical scars she had received from her acid attack would not hold her back.
Lauren Steadman, silver medallist at the Rio Paralympics and current World and European triathlete champion was the second star in the show who caused a lot of chatter amongst the public. Steadman made it all the way to week twelve of the competition after signing up to the show with the hopes of inspiring younger generations and “for them to have a different outlook on disabilities”. She described the experience as “life changing”, stating that it had changed how people look at her. She stated that when people used to look at her or see her in the streets they would see her arm first, now they see her and think of her performance on Strictly.
Anne Hegerty – I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here
Anne Hegerty made headlines a number of times during her participation on I’m a Celebrity owing to the candid way she opened up about her Autism and how it affected her. Though she never “raised the autism issue” as she put it, she did talk openly about it to some of her camp-mates when they asked. She seemed to touch a chord with the public who were impressed by the way she dealt with it whilst not making a big ‘issue’ out of it. This was clearly shown by the letter sent from 11 year old Joseph Hughes, who wrote to Anne whilst she was on the show. His mother told how he often saw his autism “quite negatively” and was amazed and inspired to see someone with autism on TV and on a show like I’m a Celeb.
In 2017 Billy’s life changed forever when he crashed his car during an F4 race he was competing in. The crash caused devastating injuries, resulting in amputations to both of his legs. The 19 year old returend to racing in March of 2018, less than a year after the accident at the British Formula 3 Championship, and then went on to win his maiden British F3 pole position in September. Billy was presented with the prestigious Helen Rollason Award at the December BBC Sports Personality of the Year ceremony. The award is given for “outstanding achievement in the face of adversity.”
The XBox Adaptive Controller
The XBox Adaptive controller was a first of it’s kind, aimed at the broad spectrum of people who fall into the ‘limited mobility’ camp. Previous to this any alternative controllers were very specialised, one-of-a-kind controllers for single hands, feet, heads and more. The XAC was designed with all types of disabilities in mind. Two large durable game play buttons allow imprecise hits with the foot, fist, elbow etc. It is built to work with all existing specialised controllers, and has a number of mic jack ports in the back so that they can be plugged in. The controller has been highly applauded by the disabled gaming community for it’s efforts to make gaming more accessible.
River Island Kid’s Campaign
6 kids with disabilities were the faces of a campaign celebrating diversity, marking the fashion brand’s 30 year anniversary. The brand joined forces with the anti-bullying charity “Ditch the Label”, to help spread the message that “labels are for clothes, not kids.” The campaign featured 6 children between the ages of 2-11, each of them signed with Zebedee Management, an agency that supplies diverse models and focuses on sensitive representation. The models included children with eye sight problems, cerebral palsy, down syndrome and other various conditions. The agency stated that they were “delighted that River Island are using models with disabilities as the norm now, We hope that other brands will follow the example set by River Island and ensure that their campaigns are more representative of our diverse society.”
Briony Williams – Great British Bake-Off
The Great British Bake-Off contestant Briony Williams, who was born with a hand deformity, was heavily praised on social media for representing people with disabilities whilst on the show. She never brought attention to her disability however, and many people did not notice it for a few weeks. She stated that she had turned down the opportunity to use specialist equipment on the show, saying that it was “a part of me, not all of me” and that she wanted to “be there on my own merit, and I don’t want people to think I’m getting special treatment.” Briony stated in an interview with the BBC that she wanted to prove that just because you’ve got a disability you can do just as well as anyone else.
It is clear that there were many positive instances of representation of disabled people in the media last year, and that instances that suggest our society is becoming more inclusive and representative of the diverse world that we live in. As Lee said, “The talents, ambitions and potential of disabled people are starting to be recognised like never before.”