I don’t see myself represented on TV.
Despite the much-vaunted policies announced by the BBC and Channel 4 to quadruple on-screen representation of disabled people by 2017, there is still scarcely a white cane or guide dog on telly.
With 2 million Blind and Visually Impaired (BVI) people in the UK 1-in-35 characters in TV drama should have sight problems. I struggle to name 35 in total!
And even they are rarely representative. Blind women are stricken victims, blind men either easily conned, or sonically superpowered. And invariably all are totally sightless, unlike 97% of the BVI population. No wonder the viewing public struggles to see the nuances of sight loss.
One notable exception is Rudi in CBeebies’ Me Too, played by actor Chris McCausland, who like me has Retinitis Pigmentosa. When my kids were little the presence in this popular show of another man who uses a white cane but is otherwise perfectly ordinary went a long way to making them and their friends more comfortable with my disability.
Alas this was not what the writers of Emmerdale had in mind when in 2009 it became the first British soap to include a blind actor in a major role, with Kitty McGeever playing Lizzie Lakely. From the outset the focus was on the negative aspects of Lizzie’s character for which her (total) blindness acted both as cause and excuse.
Has so little changed since the days of Blind Pugh? Isn’t it about time our television screen reflected the world it claims to represent? I want to see characters with varying degrees of sight loss in every drama and reality show. They and their blindness don’t have to be central to the plot – we do have other facets to our character.
It’s not rocket science. The writers of The Archers have been dropping farming tips and news into their soap for decades, and recently even managed to include a storyline about cataracts.
An example of what can and should be happening appeared in Series 2 of Broadchurch last year. The prosecuting barrister had AMD, which made her reluctant to take the case and meant she needed someone to read for her.
So, if the writers of EastEnders are listening here’s what I want to see:
Phil Mitchell notices Dot struggling to find her way across the bar of The Queen Vic (actress June Brown is actually losing her sight). In his gruff way he grabs her arm to steer her. She retorts, “Get orf me! If I want help I’ll ask for it. And when I do I don’t want to be dragged along like a trolley bag. The proper way to guide a person is by the elbow, like this.”
An everyday occurrence reflected in 20 seconds of public service broadcasting that raises awareness and is representative – job done! Who knows, with a bit of variation and enough repetition in other programmes, the message might get through!