After a crazy few weeks rehearsing for and performing in the Graeae Theatre Company’s production of Rhinestone Rollers – Wheels On Broadway I thought I deserved a day off. As I sat flicking through the channels on my Sky+ I stumbled upon an episode of a favourite show from my youth, The Fall Guy. Starring my all time childhood hero, Lee Majors, who played the Six Million Dollar Man (the fantasy of any kid who had a knackered leg in the 70’s – bionics, something I really thought we’d have by the 21st century) before becoming the stunt man come bounty hunter Colt Seavers, this episode was called “Wheels”. The story revolved around an old friend of Colt’s who was now in a wheelchair… and it was played by real wheelchair user… IN 1983!!!!
I watched the episode, and was amazed at just how well the subject of disability was covered. Loads of jokes about public sympathy, a real action cripple in the guise of Colt’s old pal, a super fast electric wheelchair with a side-car and an entire cast of real disabled people. Not one single non-disabled actor playing disabled anywhere. Again, I must point out this is 1983! The disabled main character even gets married at the end, and is planning kids. IN 1983!!!!!
Even today, here in the UK us disabled acting types still have to argue as to why only we should be playing disabled parts, and as for a story line that is as positive as this one… well we can still dream. How many young disabled people would ever believe that so long ago prime time shows like The Fall Guy were being made that did disability so well? Today’s TV producers and writers should take a hard look at their output and at how old shows like this covered disability and hang their heads in shame. How far have we come in nearly 30 years?
Another subject that has been playing on my mind recently is education. On Wednesday I took part in a march to Downing Street over the education bill. With the government stating that they want to “overturn the bias towards inclusive education” and promote special schools, I really felt it was time to sit down and be counted. I was very lucky to attend mainstream schools through out my school career, and I cannot believe that exactly 30 years since I left school we live in a country that is trying to move away from inclusivity. Not only did attending a “normal” school help me, it helped my non-disabled friends. I got a pile of exams and learnt that my AB mates were just like me, and all my physically perfect mates learnt to see disabled people as just like them. I am proud to know that after taking me all of my schools became fully inclusive and still are today. I plan to start working with my old high school, Putteridge High in Luton, in the future around issues of inclusion and awareness and to mentor some of their current students.
But it really is shocking to me that most people still think that allowing disabled kids to be schooled in the same way as non-disabled kids is not an obvious thing to work towards. Even many disabled people in the public eye are unconvinced. I won’t name names, but surely it is a right of all children to be schooled to the best of their ability? How can we disabled people ever expect to be accepted as part of society if we are kept apart from the rest of society from such an early age?
Of course there can be issues to confront for schools, but nothing is insurmountable. Instead of using these issues to bar entrance to a mainstream schooling, they should be seen as mechanisms for expanding the experiences of all the other pupils. What about a school project to explore access solutions for a pupil that is entering the school next term, or a buddy system for pupils that might need extra help? This kind of thing opens up the educational and social experiences of all the pupils of a school and makes the disabled pupil feel an accepted member of school population.
So yet again I find myself asking, just how far have we come? I would never have thought that at the age of nearly 46 I would still be fighting for correct portrayal of disabled people in the media and for inclusive education. I absolutely would never have thought I’d be fighting against plans to take our education system back to a time before I went to school. All I know is that I am glad I am not a disabled child today. To find yourself thinking like that makes me very angry, and ashamed. To think that if we are not careful all the gains disabled people have made in my adult life will be thrown away, all in the name of cutting deficits.
Right I’m going to stop myself there. I could go on to blame the Tories and go all Red Wedge on you all, but I thought I’d give you all a break from my socialist tirades. Whatever your politics, I am sure you will agree that we all must work hard to ensure that no more ground is lost.
Right I’m gong back to the TV. Sounds like Batman is on. Kerpow!