Disability and Soap Opera’s
I want you to think about something.
I want you to try and remember the last time you watched a disabled actor in a soap opera (or continuing drama) as some people have named it.
Can you remember that time?
In soap opera’s representation of any character with a disability is as rare as hen’s teeth.
Most actors hired to portray someone with a disability is usually played by an actor/actress who aren’t disabled in real life and at the end of the working day they can get out of a wheelchair and go home to learn their lines for the next day’s filming.
In the UK only one soap opera really has embraced the world of disability.
It’s taken them sometime to reach the conclusion that disabled people can integrate within society and we can play an important role in educating the viewers at home about each individual disability.
The drama or soap in question is called Hollyoaks set in a fictional suburb of Hollyoaks in Chester in Liverpool in England.
A description of what the show is about
“A soap opera targeted toward the younger set, `Hollyoaks’ focuses on a group of students at a local college and their families, all of whom live in or around the nearby borough of Hollyoaks in Chester. The award-winning programme tackles such issues as rape, murder, substance abuse, psychological well-being, and infidelity.”
Hollyoaks has become the only soap opera in the UK to have disabled actors playing disabled roles.
In 2009 Kelly-Marie Stewart an actress with Guillain–Barré syndrome began playing the character of Hayley Ramsey.
In 2012 Ralph & Zack Norman (2012–2015) and then Noah Holdsworth (2015–present) began playing the hearing-impaired character of Oscar Osbourne.
In 2014 actresses Eva Rooney & Ava Lorente began portraying the character of Minnie Blake who has Downs Syndrome.
In 2016 actress Amy Conachan began playing the character of Courtney Campbell is a science teacher who hasn’t the use of her legs and uses a wheelchair to manoeuvre herself around. You can read more about her in this article (https://www.thescottishsun.co.uk/news/167879/courrtney-campbell-amy-conachan-hollyoaks-disability-wheelchair-tv/)
We now cut to the 10th July 2018.
Exciting casting news was announced.
After a UK wide casting call out was placed for an Autistic actress, Talia Grant who is Autistic in real life won the role of Brooke Hathaway.
This is the first time an Autistic person has been portrayed on TV and who is Autistic in real life.
This is a huge step forward.
Usually these parts are acted by those who are non- Autistic.
Now you may be wondering if I have an issue with this and I do.
You can read all my articles about how I feel about this here
As you can see I have written about this extensively.
But I don’t want to dwell on this.
So, let’s go around to the other soaps in the UK and see what disabled character they have shall we?
Emmerdale – where an actor with cerebral palsy is playing the character of Ryan Dingle. He has been in the role since June 2018.
Coronation Street – where actress Cherylee Houston who has a rare connective tissue disorder plays Izzy Armstrong since 2010.
They also have actor Liam Bairstow playing the character since 2015 playing the character Alex Warner who has downs syndrome.
EastEnders had Lisa Hammond who played market trader Donna Yates who has dwarfism,
They also had actor David Proud who played Adam Best. Both characters had spina bifida.
Janet Mitchell played by an actress called Grace has appeared since 2006 and has downs syndrome.
Now let’s cross to my side of the world Australia.
In Australia we have two soap operas Home and Away and Neighbours.
There has only been ONE actor who is disabled in real life who over FOUR episodes appeared in the show Neighbours. Actor Sam Humphrey who suffers from acrodysplasia played the character James Udagawa.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
In Home and Away they have had zero disabled actors who have appeared in their show.
I’ll let that sink in. Out of 5 episodes per week for both soaps not one of them have a full-time disabled actor in a role representing the disabled community.
So why is this?
How is it that we must rely on UK soaps for representation of all the disabilities that exist in the world?
Hollyoaks is the only soap where they have a blend of disabilities within the framework of their show and those actors are at the centre of some excellent stories.
Last November (2018) Hollyoaks represented the C4 soap at the C4 Disability conference in Chester.
The C4 soap has made diversity and inclusion a real priority. Hollyoaks has often featured strong, confident and powerful characters with disabilities who make great role models. The soap has explored schizo-affective disorder, Down syndrome, autism, depression, deafness and wheelchair restrictions.
Executive producer Bryan Kirkwood said
“Hollyoaks has grown into one of the most diverse shows on television and our disability visibility reflects that. The Hollyoaks team’s presentation at Channel 4’s Disability Conference was a celebration of all the trailblazing work that goes on behind the scenes and on-screen.
We have two exceptionally talented leading actors with disabilities or additional needs in Amy Conachan, who is a wheelchair user, and Talia Grant, who has Autism. It’s important to us that both Amy and Talia star in huge Hollyoaks stories rather than fade into the background. The heightened world of Hollyoaks is an equal opportunities disaster zone where everyone can fall in love or get caught up in the latest stunt.”
You can watch the video here
And read more about the conference here
Look I’m happy that UK soaps are really shaping the way people with disabilities are portrayed on screen and giving an education to the millions of viewers who tune in each night to watch these shows. However, I think that our Australian counterparts should hang their heads in shame at the total lack of disability being represented on our screens.
Carry on the Conversation
Do you have an opinion on this?
Why do you think that Australian soaps don’t want to or don’t include disabled actors?
Let me know in the comments below
As always, I can also be found on Twitter: @AutisticNick9 and at my email firstname.lastname@example.org
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Thank you for reading and I will see you next time for more thoughts from across the spectrum.