Last week I wrote a “ranty” post about negative representation of MS and disability in the media, particularly BBC1’s EastEnders suicide storyline.
I was so cross about this I’d forgotten all about the deliciously diverse and inclusive new drama, “Years and years” written by Russell T Davies. Ironically, this was also on BBC1 and was the most positive portrayal of disability I’ve ever seen on TV.
One of the characters, Rosie Lyons (Ruth Madeley) is disabled and we don’t realise this till the story has jumped ahead 5 years. It’s not made clear if she was disabled at the beginning or has become disabled, but I loved the way this isn’t even important.
Her disability isn’t highlighted as a major event, she’s just in a wheelchair! We weren’t even told what her disability was, does that even matter anyway?
She’s seen driving, flirting with a new man and even going on a date and having sex with him. She’s also a single parent and has a job!
These things are just seen as ordinary parts of her life. No-one calls her “brave” or “inspirational” just for living her life like everyone else does. The best part for me though was her personality. She was happy and smiling just like “normal” people. She laughed about her disastrous date with her brothers and was included in her family like everyone else. Her opinions were listened to and she contributed equally.
This is so important for perceptions of disability. It sends a subtle but clear message that disability doesn’t have to be unbearable. It’s not the end of the world and you can have a full and happy life even if you can’t walk very well. Who knew!?
I watched it with my son and love how his generation are sponges who soak up and accept what’s presented to them. This character reinforced for him how I’m trying to live my life: disabled but positive. With positive representation like this, his generation won’t see disability as a problem for employment or relationships. They’ll accept it as a normal part of life just like race, sexuality and gender.
He’d been upset by the EastEnders storyline and had asked what type of MS the character had, obviously worried that was my future. I’m so glad we saw Years and Years in the same week, so his perception wasn’t damaged.
I did raise an eyebrow when Rosie easily accessed everyone else’s houses in the programme and wondered how she managed stairs so easily but that was a minor point I can easily gloss over for the sake of such glorious positivity!