Seven disabled presenters will make their television debuts appearing alongside some of the most recognisable faces in sports broadcasting during the the Paralympic Games this summer. Channel 4 will host the contest, showing more than 150 hours of coverage throughout the 12-day event, significantly more than has ever before been aired.
The seven presenters, products of a £500,000 talent search, said that part of their job will be "to make household names" of the Paralympic stars – but they may yet do the same of themselves.
Channel 4, which has won praise for its innovative sports coverage in the past, particularly in cricket, is going to great lengths to demystify the occasionally complex world of competitive disabled sport, and allow audiences to engage with the athletes and the challenges they face. All the presenters have extraordinary stories of dealing with disability but, like the competitors, don't wish to overshadow the competition.
"It will be an advantage having disabled people," said Daraine Mulvihill, a talented runner who contracted meningitis at the age of 16 and lost the use of her fingers and had to undergo a double below-the-knee amputation. Ms Mulvihill will host the breakfast show with Rick Edwards, a familiar face on the Channel's youth output.
"Disabled presenters can more easily ask the questions other people find difficult to ask; explaining exactly what their disability is, how they have become disabled, and how it affects them."
"Triumph against adversity must be recognised, and people's back stories are important," said Alex Brooker, another of Channel 4's new team, a sports journalist from Croydon who has a below right knee prosthesis and a hand and arm disability. "One of Great Britain's seven a side team used to play youth football with Wayne Rooney, then he got hit by a bus. But we won't let disability overshadow sporting achievement. And you get plenty of stories of triumph against adversity in able-bodied sport as well."
Channel 4 is committed to ensuring half of its presenters and reporters for the Games will be disabled. Jon Snow will front the Channel's coverage of its opening and ceremonies. Clare Balding and Jonathan Edwards will anchor their prime time output.
Risqué Australian comedian Adam Hills will host a round-up show at 10pm each night. Hills, a regular on BBC2's Mock the Week, was born with no right foot, and wears a prosthetic one in its place. He presented from the Beijing Paralympics for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "It's about treating people with disabilities exactly as you would treat anyone on the planet," he said. "People don't get into the pool to show the world that a man with one arm can swim, they do it to swim as fast as they possibly can. You can mickey-take, but not to the point of ridicule."
Disabilities decoded: C4's 'LEXI' guide
The "LEXI Decoder" is the big innovation that Channel 4 hopes will allow audiences quickly to understand what is going on, what disabilities the competitors have, and why athletes with different disablities are classed in the same category.
Before races the athletes' disabilities will be indicated on graphics similar to the above – developed by former Paralympic gold medallist swimmer Giles Long,
Green indicates no impairment, yellow mild, orange moderate and red no function whatsoever.
The example shown is the S6 swimming category, in which TeamGB gold medallist Ellie Simmonds competes. Though the disabilities here are wide ranging, all competitors in this category have difficulty maintaining consistent direction, hence they are grouped together.