Are You Having a Laugh? TV and Disability
A look at disability as portrayed on television starting in the 1960s and an appeal on behalf of the well-meaning but condescending Spastics Society. 1970s soap 'Crossroads' had a wheelchair-user Sandy but is accused of tokenism. US cop series 'Ironside' however had a leading character whose invalidity never stopped him from solving crimes with the able-bodied. Monty Python's sketches on people who are different are now seen as in questionable taste and soaps have been slow to use genuinely disabled actors - wheelchair-user Julie Fernandez in 'El Dorado' and blind Kitty McGeever in 'Emmerdale' being two isolated examples. In the twenty-first century comedies like 'Extras' and 'The Office' feature disabled people - Fernandez again in the latter - though they now set up ignorant able-bodied people as the butts of the jokes. Attitudes may have changed but Paralympics medallist Tanni Grey-Thompson can still recall how she was unable to collect a TV award because the rostrum she needed to reach to get it was inaccessible to her wheelchair.