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Opening My Eyes….

Posted on: Friday 24 July 2020 11:49pm

Liesl Hammer is an 18 year old intern with ToyLikeMe – the arts and play not-for-profit organisation that campaigns playfully and effectively around disability representation in toys and its capacity to boost self-esteem and grow open minds.  ToyLikeMe is now producing ‘MixMups’ a new animation with disabled lead characters, currently in production at McKinnon and Saunders and Raydar Media. This was explored in one of the Inclusivity Now strand videos for CMC 2020 Online.

Through my attendance at the CMC 2020, as part of my internship with ToyLikeMe, I was able to discover what the children’s media industries are doing to improve diversity on and off screen. In September I start a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. As a young disabled woman I was keen to see all the videos in the CMC’s new Inclusivity Now collection. When I say that it changed my outlook on representation I am not exaggerating!

Each talk explored different representation problems in the media; whether it was gender, disability or BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) and then proceeded to offer tips on what could be done to improve diversity.

I must admit to my own shortcomings. As a disabled person, when I thought of inclusion in the media I was selfish and only looked at ‘diversity’ in relation to my own. However, CMC has opened my eyes to the huge under-representation of people of colour too. I was brought up in a very liberal household and therefore never discriminated (I hope!) Yet, I now realise that, maybe due to this, I became colour blind.

Representation of the disabled community  has always been on my mind. Children deserve to see themselves in the media as it makes them feel ‘normal’ and accepted. Children who may not be considered diverse, also need to see a diverse cast as this helps removes attitudinal prejudices.

Attending the CMC has made me realise how important my own voice is. As a writer myself, for some reason my characters have always been able-bodied, but I have realized that I owe it to my community to represent disability.

When I was a child, I only remember seeing one disabled character – in the CBBC series ‘The Dumping Ground’. I was, and still am, so excited by this, because the actor had Cerebral Palsy like me.

Abled-bodied people have the privilege of seeing themselves on TV everyday, but as soon as you’re in a minority group, you get excited because there are probably thousands of people watching a version of you on screen. It’s like having an unusual name like Star and then watching a film where the character’s name is also Star. Exciting right?

I particularly like how the disabilities in ‘The Dumping Ground’ are rarely/never discussed; they are just children who happen to have a disability. I do however, wonder how the wheelchair users get up the stairs? I feel like it could have been more authentic if the wheelchair user had a room downstairs. Other than that the representation in this show is phenomenal, I can’t fault it.

When writing this article I took a look at other series on children’s channels to see if anything has changed since I was a child. To my relief I found several examples. ‘Postman Pat’ and ‘Peppa Pig’ have wheelchair users. ‘Magic Hands’ is stories told in sign language. ‘Melody’ is about a girl with visual impairment. ‘Pablo’ has autistic characters. However, the disabled people, with the exception of Pablo are mostly the side-kicks. A sort of token add-on.

This is why I love the new ‘MixMups’ show by Rebecca Atkinson so much! I was lucky enough to help with research in the early stages where I sat down with Rebecca and we talked about what I wanted to see as a wheelchair user. I really wanted to see the wheelchair user transfer in and out of her chair as I have never seen this on TV before.

Bringing in people for research with the same diversities as the characters is so important as people without disabilities cannot know about the finer authentic details of disabled life.

So… “what has the CMC done for me…?” It made me appreciate diversity in media as it’s happening now, while also acknowledging that improvements have yet to be made. It has opened my eyes to other diversities that need to be explored beyond my own. There’s still a long way to go but CMC showed me progress, and people who care!

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