BBC Three recently ran a disability season called ‘Defying the Label’. They showed many programmes on the topic of disability and the content was massively diverse. I watched all of the episodes featured in the season, not all of which are mentioned below, and generally really enjoyed it. Many of the episodes are available on BBC Iplayer and a full list can be found here. I have made my own ‘awards’ for the programmes I felt stood out from the crowd, but please know that this is based on my own opinion and experience watching the programmes alone.
Most Entertaining: The Unbreakables
The Unbreakables was a fantastic three part look into the wonderful students at National Star College. Students there have multiple disabilities, many with some form of physical and learning disability. The episodes presented us with fantastic stereotype-busting characters such as Xenon the ladies man and Lewis the party animal. There were hilarious scenes and heartbreaking ones. I loved this series.
(I’ve also visited NSC and it really is that brilliant!!)
Oh dear. These programmes really did not do it for me. The emphasis seemed to be on how being disabled makes you different in a bad way. At times I found the narrators squirm enduring with their attitudes. I was hoping for coverage of the major troubles disabled people find when looking for housing. Alas, instead we followed the sister of a disabled young man who has been asked to leave his specialist school. He has severe learning difficulties and features surprisingly little in the documentary. Instead it feels like we go on a magical mystery tour of people who have the burden of looking after disabled people. To me I was horrified when a potential cure begins to be explored as a way of fixing her brother. In ‘Disabled in An Instant’ we meet lots of disabled people talking about how awful it is to be disabled. Need I say more?
This programme was stomach turning. Sophie Morgan goes to Ghana to see what Human Rights Watch describes as unimaginable for herself. Exploring prayer camps, fetish priests and huge discrimination- this is a truly horrifying watch as we learn how disabled children are killed in Ghana under the thin guise of a spiritual ceremony.
Most Informative: The Ugly Face Of Disability Hate Crime
I’m a big fan of Adam Pearson- he has raised the profile of facially disfigured people massively and has a fantastic sense of humour. This documentary was a great example of a disabled person kicking ass to fight discrimination. The documentary was following his personal battle against social media giants allowing threatening comments about his disfigurement to stay online and his wider fight to bring awareness of disfigurements to the public eye. The episode also raises awareness of how disability hate crime goes massively unreported to the police, suggesting it is being tolerated by disabled people rather than reported. Did you know that disability hate crime is even treated judicially less seriously than hate crimes against other minority demographics? It felt like a programme about disability for disabled people. Excellent.
Eye Opening: A Very Personal Assistant
Three part series following disabled young people who are looking to employ like minded carers of the same age. This was a really eye opening and interesting series with really positive disabled role models. I think it would really encourage unemployed young people to explore the possibility of becoming a carer.
Special Mention: The Boy Who Wanted His Leg Cut Off
A special mention must go to 11 year old Dillon Chapman and family who share the journey of trying to free Dillon from the agony of having a leg of tumours. I really thought this programme was beautiful, from the fact that Dillon is so sure of what he needs to the fact that his parents support him no matter what. This was the only programme about disabled children in the series but it definitely astounded viewers.
Overall Triumph: The Unbreakables
The Unbreakables was wit doubt my favourite series in the season. It will have done miracles for the learning difficulty community in the way of awareness raising and touched on so many wider issues like disability and sex, alcohol and housing. It had me crying with laughter and empathy. An amazing legacy to the disabled community.
The Defying The Label season has been many things. Inspiring, educating, funny and frustrating. Why were sensory disabilities like sight and hearing impairments completely ignored? Why was the focus only on learning and physical disabilities? Why were children with disabilities not so prominent? What about mental illness? These are all questions I would love to ask. The season certainly hit the spot in the way of disabled narratives with many documentaries having a disabled person as the investigator but still sadly most being wheelchair users, which the public see as the ‘stereotype’ of disability. It would have been good to have some more invisible disability representation to over come this. Overall I feel my hours were well spent on this season and I look forward to disability seasons in years to come.