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Disability Is Everywhere: Coalition reverie, aliens and film reviews

by Simon Minty

2nd June 2010

In his latest dispatch, Simon Minty reflects on losing a disabled prime minister and probes for impairment connections to David Cameron and Nick Clegg.
Simon Minty
It’s been almost a month since the election and the new coalition agreement was drawn up. We have a new government and have said goodbye to a Prime Minister with a disability - and I don’t mean Gordon Brown’s curious smile!

It’s widely known that Gordon Brown has a glass eye and that his speeches were in a larger font size making it easier for him to read them. He lost the eye in a rugby accident whilst at University. Perhaps less well known was the impact of his impairment on the televised Prime Ministerial debates.
Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and David Cameron
During the first two, I couldn’t work out why Nick Clegg and David Cameron swapped the centre podium and Gordon Brown always stayed on the right (as you look at the screen). I guessed Brown was saving the middle spot for the final debate.

But come the third showdown, he stayed on the right again. How bizarre - I thought at least politically he should he be on the left. Adam Boulton on Sky News later enlightened me by explaining, very matter of factly, that Brown had asked to be always on the right as he found this position easier due to his sight.

As many of you know, the UK’s new Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha had a son, Ivan, who had cerebral palsy and a rare form of epilepsy. He sadly passed away last year.

I generally liked their approach to talking about Ivan - they ensured that he was included in everything they did and the family adapted when it was tricky. Ivan was considered, rightly, a full member of their family, different but equal. Cameron recently expressed concern that their next child due in September may have the same condition.
The Cameron family (including Ivan)
Gordon Brown’s second son, Fraser who was born in 2006, has cystic fibrosis. In contrast to the Camerons, the Browns always shielded their children from the media spotlight, except for their final exit from Downing Street when all four family members walked out hand in hand.
Despite considerable digging around, I can’t find a direct link between Nick Clegg and disability. I suspect that there is one, I just don’t know it yet so I’m happy for you to advise me. I do know the new Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Eastbourne and Willingdon is a fine chap called Stephen Lloyd who has hearing loss and has worked in the field of disability.
Professor Stephen Hawking
Over the course of the election, the reliably funny Now Show on BBC Radio 4 renamed themselves The Vote Now Show. One of their topical gags involved playing around with Professor Stephen Hawking’s recent warning about aliens plundering planet earth.
The bit I liked about the show was that they didn’t do a dodgy impression of the synthesised voice Prof Hawking uses nor did they do any wheelchair gags. In fact, if you were an alien listening to the story, you would have no inkling that Hawking has a pretty full on disability.
3D spectacles (as modelled by David Tennant)
There were more radio delights on Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s BBC Radio 5 Film Reviews when I listened to a recent podcast. The guests were actors Ian Hart and Karl Wood who were discussing their roles in a new film 'A Boy Called Dad'. Predictably and rather enjoyably the conversation drifted and they discussed the merits of 3D viewing and stereo sound respectively.

The younger actor, Karl, mentioned he couldn’t see 3D after an operation he had as a child because of a ‘lazy’ eye. Then Ian revealed he couldn’t hear in stereo, as only one of his ears is ‘good’. There was an almost audible moment of hesitation about whether the word disability would be uttered.

Simon Mayo, a natural on the subject of disability, waited for his guests to clarify. As it turned out, Ian opted for describing his ‘wonky ear’ and suggested he and Karl needed to pair up to see 3D stereo films together! Could this be another coalition in the making?

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