If I think back to my childhood, I really can’t remember any heroes from the world of television, film or sport who you could consider to be disabled. There was Ironside, a hoary old detective series from the 1960s that starred Raymond Burr in a wheelchair, my nan seemed to love it but it wasn’t something that was really on my radar. There was Clara in Heidi who was also confined to a wheelchair,but,to be honest, that was just about it.
But these days it seems that heroes really do come in all shapes and sizes, and are just as likely to be disabled as they are to be able bodied. The Paralympian heroes like David Weir, Ellie Simmonds, Jonnie Peacock and Lauren Steadman have proved that a disability is no bar to sporting brilliance, with the last two on that list also wowing with their dance skills in Strictly Come Dancing. Weir is the king of British athletes that use wheelchairs, competing in all Olympic games since Atlanta in 1996, currently holding the British record at all track distances up to 5,000m, as well as on the road at 10 km, half marathon, and marathon. All these athletes have things in common, they all train hard, understand the importance of sleep and diet to their performance, and they are all disabled.
And it is not just in sport that we have seen those with disabilities come to the forefront. Presenter Nikki Fox is a regular face on our screens, she was born with Muscular Dystrophy but is now well known as an award winning presenter, journalist and documentary film maker, with a regular presenting spot on BBC Watchdog. Steve Brown was a member of Great Britain’s wheelchair rugby squad, and now presents on Countryfile, whilst Cerrie Burnell is famous as the first disabled presenter on CBeebies, but is also an actress who recently starred in BBC daytime soap Doctors, where preconceptions about her disability were addressed.
So why is this important?
Ultimately, disabilities of all kinds are something we can’t ignore, they are a reality of our life. But the athletes, actresses, models and presenters who are in the mainstream media and are achieving great things, are not only inspirational for others who are disabled, particularly disabled children, but are inspirations to us all.
Discrimination because of disability is no longer acceptable, it does not stop someone being a great presenter or actress, any more than it stops them competing at high levels in sport.
We need to celebrate all levels of diversity in our society, and having positive role models who just happen to be disabled is a big part of this.