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How would a blind contestant fare in the Big Brother house?

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Damon Rose Damon Rose | 19:39 UK time, Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Another year, another Big Brother, and another rumour that there might be a disabled contestant on it. Specifically, a blind one.

Big Brother series 9 starts on Channel 4 this Thursday. Of course, as all BB fans know, the contestants that go into the reality TV house are kept a closely guarded secret until the launch night. But little dribs and drabs of info always get out and we're never entirely sure if this is clever media management from the network or whether the production company has sprung a leak.

We think it was last weekend's Sunday People that got this year's disability rumour mill spinning with their headline Blind Brother.

They quote an 'insider' as saying: "Everything possible has been done to make sure the person settles in and is not sidelined. The house has been designed in an accessible way."

The Ouch team were a bit split on whether or not to believe the rumours this year. A quick trip to Google News adds a bit more meat to the bone though, the complexity of the reports suggesting that perhaps something is afoot. Media agencies are saying that, breaking from usual BB tradition (that's Big Brother, not Beyond Boundaries), is reporting that presenter Davina McCall - who's not pregnant this year - will leave her usual post and assist our blind contestant to the house. Personally. I'm guessing it's the maternal hormones still kicking around. The contestant will then be handed over to security who will escort him/her right in.

Reading between the lines we're thinking Davina won't go in herself, though it's entirely possible she might if our blind person is the first contestant in and she won't be bumping in to any others - that'd be a huge departure from format. Channel 4 might want to give him/her a bit of what's known as 'orientation' or 'mobility' training around the place before the rest of the rabble turn up in order to give him/her some immediate independence and a fighting chance. Will Davina do that? Will they break from tradition even further and give him/her a guidance trip round the house before launch night, even? Personally I'd just chuck em in and let them deal with it.

Is it a girl or a guy? The People were neutral on this though inentertainment, The Sun and other publications are suggesting it's a man.

In our office we have two blind people on the team - me and Emma. And of course we've been discussing all the ins and outs of this. Emma thinks the blind contestant is condemned from the outset, pointing out that it's extremely difficult to watch Big Brother in the first week or so if you're a blind TV viewer because the contestants make such a lot of noise all wanting to stamp their mark on the show at the very beginning. And, certainly, being blind and actually being there in amongst all those voices will be a tricky thing to handle.

Learning who's who and being able to hear above the din will be a challenge. It'll take a few days. Similarly, in real life, blind people can find it difficult to network amongst strangers at parties and conferences due to zero eye contact, zero body language signals and the fear of not knowing exactly whether you've spoken to this person before or not. It takes confidence and a good blindie social toolkit to pass this off. Not at all impossible. Look out for him/her accidentally calling someone by the wrong name and judge whether his/her credibility doesn't dip on how he recovers from it.

"What about the Big Brother tasks," asked Emma. "They're usually very visual. Are they going to adapt them or just have the blind person cope with only being half involved?"

A good question. And what is the best way forward anyway? Making no adjustments will force our housemate to seek help and forge new bonds. A good thing? In this hyper-real context I suspect it would be better than trying to cosy the contestant too much. A good balance needs to be struck and our contestant will need to know the right time to complain about any unfair events in the house. This'll also enlighten the other housemates in the process - and the viewers too. How will they handle a dose of blind? It'll be fascinating if it happens.

If rumours are to be believed, Channel 4 have been fighting off criticisms that this is exploitative. Such allegations are surely a bit patronising as our hero will have actively attended the auditions with a view to getting on TV. But there's something even more fundamental here and it's about business - though few will recognise this. The inclusion of a blind housemate is going to cause ripples in the visually impaired community who I'm sure will be flocking to watch the show. Even the wider disability community. And viewers equal money. Ladies and gentleman, it's the disability bottom line. The Blue Pound |(I just coined that phrase on account of the blue badge thing) could save C4 this summer.

Will you be there Thursday night at 9?


  • Comment number 1.

    Blue Pound! BRILLIANT!

    Yes I will, and backing the DisAbled housemate all the way, as I've said here:

    This is fantastic news if it's true!

  • Comment number 2.

    It'd certainly be interesting - in light of the Shetty racism row - to see whether the producers will be able to recognise subtle disablism that would probably be more obvious to Disabled people generally, and whether the media will make the right assessment of such situations.

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi Wizz,
    I'm finding it all very strange to hear the opposition to a VI contestant on the main site, and on the BB site. I took part in a Reality TV show 5 years ago, on C4, won it, and was surprised how little fuss was made about my total blindness, apart from C4 writing up D--i-e L-i-h, blind from Birth, every time I set foot on camera.
    There was little implication by the media that I'd won because of any sympathy vote, although I suppose it's slightly different with a talent based show, cos you're there, doing something you're sure to shine at.
    I wish him the very best of luck, and don't see what the problem is, he'll go in and just be himself, and so he should. :)
    Good luck Michael.


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