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Disability Bitch vs TV viewers

25th February 2009

Big news, readers: this week a disabled person was seen in public doing an actual job that she gets paid to do. Yes, Cerrie Burnell appeared on the CBeebies channel for pre-school children. Not being a pre-school child I've never seen her presenting work, but you can see her profile here and even see her singing a cheery song about sunset. How lovely ... except it's not.

You see, this week I HATE TELEVISION VIEWERS, for reasons which will become clear very shortly.
Cerrie Burnell
Eagle-eyed readers may have notice that Cerrie is lacking the lower part of one arm. You would've thought that this was cause for celebration. After all, we read so much about how disabled people are benefit scrounging scum costing the taxpayers loads of money. It is surely refreshing to find at least one of us in gainful employment?

Strange, then, that the headline in this week's Daily Mail was 'One armed presenter is scaring children, say parents'. Really? I mean, children run screaming from me, of course they do, I'm Disability Bitch, but surely they can't be scared of the gorgeous Cerrie, who has a similar impairment to Britain's Missing Top Model winner Kelly Knox? Kelly, I seem to remember, was extremely popular with the British public and everyone thought she was beautiful. How can reaction to Cerrie be so different?
Cerrie on the CBeebies set
I had my doubts about this 'story' from the off. For a start, Cerrie very clearly has more than one arm. She is not a 'one-armed' presenter. She has two upper body limbs. One of them is non-standard. That's all. You can call me pedantic if you like, but reading beyond the headline, you will discover that a whole nine parents have made formal complaints to the BBC about Cerrie's very visible disability. Nine. Out of hundreds of thousands of regular viewers. The subsequent media coverage has been immense.

This is hardly a national outcry. This is not an army of parents refusing to allow their children to watch CBeebies because there's a lady with a funny arm on it. It's nine people. Nine very odd people, no doubt. Sure, there've been a few additional comments on internet forums, but people write all sorts of prejudiced guff on the internet, as you can see by looking at the comments section on any national newspaper site. For instance,

Check out the comments underneath this article about an episode of BBC One soap EastEnders which this week featured an all-black cast for the first time. There's some prejudiced nonsense there, but I don't see it making national headlines.

Yet somehow, we seem to be having a 'debate' about a disabled person's presence on a children's channel. The topic has been discussed on Radio 2, Radio 5, in the national media, online. I'm not even sure what the debate is. Let me clear this up once and for all: pre-school children ARE NOT scared of disabled people. If they were, doctors would've been flooded with emergency call outs every time Cerrie appeared on screen, disabled people would live under curfew to avoid upsetting the young'uns when out in public, adverts for disability charities would only feature in top shelf magazines. It doesn't happen. There's nothing to debate. Nothing. That's n o t h i n g.
Fiona Bruce on the set of the 10 O'Clock News
To make matters worse, this isn't the only such disability over-reaction in the last 7 days. You may've heard that the BBC recently asked its news presenters to read out phone numbers and URLs on News programmes for the benefit of blind and partially sighted viewers who can't read on screen captions.

Good. But the email leaked to the press and there followed allegations of extreme 'political correctness' to the extent that the BBC Head of News was forced to defend his actions.

To be honest, I was somewhat surprised that fully sighted viewers cared at all. I'd like someone to explain to me what difference it makes to the quality of the programme if a news anchor reads a phone number out. I appreciate that if the News at Ten featured nothing more than Fiona Bruce reciting the telephone directory things would get quite dull quite quickly but all they're suggesting is that she reads a few digits out occasionally. It's not a revolution. The BBC isn't going to start making everyone communicate with the viewing audience in Braille. It's a small adjustment which will make a massive difference to a significant proportion of viewers and no one else will even notice. Get over it.

Honestly, readers, I'm beyond depressed. I open my newspapers expecting to read actual news, y'know, about the recession and politics and bushfires. I do not expect to read stereotypical rubbish about disabled people masquerading somehow as events of national importance. I can't even be bothered to make a joke about it. I'm going to watch my new favourite channel, CBeebies. Please come and get me when something worthwhile happens.

Millswatch

After weeks of silence, she's BACK! Heather Mills is jet-setting around New York giving interviews on Veganism (for a change) and - shockingly! - had a bit of a bad hair day while she was there. Now that's top quality journalism.

Facebook

Luckily, pre-school children aren't allowed on Facebook, so feel free to become my friend and flaunt your impairments here I want to build my friends up to 1200 in the next few weeks. Expect heated day-to-day debate on whether Johnny Ball is scarier than Cerrie Burnell. Yes, in my opinion. And who knows, if I can be bothered I may even do the famous '25 things you never knew about me' viral questionnaire that's doing the rounds over there. Good suggestion on my wall from Rob Williams. Watch this space.

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