When Lee Ridley, also known as the Lost Voice Man, won Britain’s Got Talent in 2018, it was considered a watershed moment for disability representation in the media. Unable to speak due to cerebral palsy, audiences applauded him for his performance using a Lightwriter. His win not only helped to build awareness for cerebral palsy but was also a positive portrayal of someone with the condition.
Globally, it is estimated that more than 18 million people have cerebral palsy – enough to fill an entire country. Despite this, they are seldom represented in the media, and when they are, their depiction is often stereotypical. Their lack of presence often makes people who have the condition feel unheard and unseen, while society at large continues to remain ignorant.
Cerebral Palsy In The Media
In her famous Ted talk, Arab comedian Maysoon Zayid detailed how she auditioned to perform the role of a person with cerebral palsy and was rejected in favor of an able-bodied actor. When she asked why the casting director explained they were worried she wouldn’t physically be able to perform the role. Zayid wondered, if she, a woman with cerebral palsy, could not perform a character with cerebral palsy, then maybe the script was an inaccurate depiction of life with cerebral palsy. She touched upon an important issue about the lack of authentic portrayals of people with cerebral palsy in the media.
Poor Representation For People With Disabilities
Jack Thorne, a celebrated award-winning creator of shows like “The Virtues of Enola Holmes” and “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” said that the entertainment industry has failed the disabled as a third of all the lead actor Oscars went to actors portraying characters with disabilities, though not one of them had the disability which they portrayed. According to CPFN, it’s become easier than ever for those with disabilities to affect change on social and mainstream media. However, very few are given the opportunity to work onscreen. Indeed, when looking at disabilities in general, only 8.2 percent of disabled people are represented in broadcasting with only 5.4 percent working on screen and 3.6 percent holding senior TV roles, though 20 percent of the world’s population have a disability.
Actor James Moore said he, too, struggled to find parts after leaving university. The Emmerdale star, however, has since won the best newcomer award at the UK National Television Awards, and has kept cerebral palsy in the limelight by campaigning for fundamental necessities such as funding for people with cerebral palsy, who he said are treated as “second class citizens.” Families impacted by cerebral palsy have benefited from his work while society at large has become more aware of cerebral palsy. Meaningful media portrayals are a way to make society more accepting while also giving disabled people role models to look up to. The importance of adequate media coverage was recently seen by UK broadcaster Channel 4’s 300-hour round-the-clock coverage of the Olympics.
Stats showed that more than 64 percent of viewers felt more positive towards people with disabilities, while one in three Brits surveyed said their attitude on people with impairments had changed following the broadcasts. Beaming to 100 countries, 3.8 billion people from around the world tuned in to what was described as a “life-changing moment” for the world’s disabled community.
There’s still a long way to go for media diversity to encompass more people with cerebral palsy, however, more positive and meaningful portrayals can go a long way towards changing attitudes. As actress Geri Jewell, who also has cerebral palsy said, “Our attitudes are the biggest disability in life.” She said shifting attitudes is what can change an “unhealthy burden” into a “healthy challenge”.