Enough tokenism. Show us some disabled superheroes for kids to look up to

Peppa Pig with a walking frame? It’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities and time children’s TV heroes spoke to a vital demographic of young viewers.

Share
Related Topics

As my daughter cheers Mike the Knight or smiles at Peppa’s puddle jumping, I’m reminded of a depressing reality.

Despite the statistic that 6% of children are disabled in the UK, there’s not so much as a hearing aid or facial disfigurement between the TV heroes so revered by young viewers.

We live in largely enlightened, diversity-friendly times. Yet, although it is acceptable for a one-armed presenter to front kids’ TV, a disabled cartoon star appears to be the ultimate taboo.

At home, we affectionately refer to my three-year-old’s walking frame as the ‘og pog’, after the bizarre three-wheeled vehicle Makka Pakka pushes in In the Night Garden. The fact this is the nearest to her own device she has ever seen a TV character use is a sad indictment on an industry that has vowed to serve children better.

The Beeb has publicly declared its intention to ‘showcase the UK’s complexity and diversity’? It could start by giving children’s protagonists wheelchairs and walking frames - equipment that is grounded in reality, rather than some strange, alternate universe.

It’s about more than just inclusivity. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since disability drove the plot-line on kids’ TV (who can forget Byker Grove’s PJ being hit by a paintball? “Duncan, man, I’m blind!”). Increasingly now, disability is included as an incidental sideline, as in CBeebies’ Get Well Soon, where the wheelchair of puppet Kiwa goes unmentioned - quite rightly.

There are other notable exceptions, like the excellent Something Special, which showcases Makaton signs and celebrates children with learning disabilities. In fact, these days, you’re never too far from some representation of disability on children’s television - particularly the BBC.

Box-ticking aside, the real virgin territory for programme-makers lies in giving special needs to actual sword-waving, spell-casting, swash-buckling superheroes. It’s one thing including a disabled child in a cooking show, but creating a leading character for children to idolise, who also happens to have a disability? Now, that would be progress.

And it’s so desperately needed. The Paralympics went a long way to change attitudes, but certain facts remain. Only this summer, a survey by charity Scope revealed that almost half of disabled people felt that attitudes had worsened towards them in the last year. The same research showed that 87% of those questioned believed that having disabled people in the media would have a positive effect.

Not to mention those dismally frequent headlines about disability hate-crimes that I cannot bear to even read.

By denying young children disabled TV heroes at such a critical, impressionable age, the industry’s not just missing a trick - it’s perpetuating harmful stereotypes.

In my more mundane childcare moments, I’ve been known to dream up alternative plot-lines for the programmes so familiar in our house. In my version of Rastamouse, what would make a ‘bad ting’ even better would be to replace DJ mouse Scratchy’s roller skates with a motorised wheelchair. 

And my take on animated deep-sea adventure Octonauts sees ‘brave polar bear’ Captain Barnacles battling a giant jellyfish by blinding it with the reflection from his walking frame.

Back to reality, and a quick audit of special needs references in children’s television throws up some dubious examples. Upsy Daisy’s attachment to her bed might be the closest to my daughter’s experience of an exhausting hormone condition, but I’m guessing it was included to enhance the storyline, rather than as a reference to hypothyroidism.

And if lovable ‘village idiot’ Goofy was a real person, he’d be recognised as having a learning disability, yet in Disney’s cartoons he’s portrayed as a laughing stock.

For young children, taboos don’t exist. Be it a uniformity of able-bodied characters, or a diversity of disabled and non-disabled superheroes, they’ll readily accept what they see on television as the norm.

So unless programme-makers recognise their power to shape future minds, and start giving their stars wheelchairs or cleft lips along with their superpowers, an entire generation will be robbed of positive, realistic role models.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker