According to the Daily Mail, the BBC has received nine complaints about new CBeebies presenter Cerrie Burnell, who has part of one arm missing from a birth defect. The complaining parents apparently claim that she frightens their children, but what are they doing to take this wonderful opportunity to educate their children in diversity and disability? Nothing, it appears, except pass on their own prejudices.
Disability is a fact of life. For far too many years it was hidden away, but we have moved way beyond that. The education system in the UK positively encourages integration. In any school in the country you will find children with disabilities, both obvious and hidden. So these toddlers who are being 'frightened' will encounter disability elsewhere soon enough. Children are very accepting, they usually only need the simplest of explanations that another is different. It is so often the adults who are not understanding.
The BBC does a good job of showing disability, from Something Special and Balamory on CBeebies, through various mainstream disabled journalists and presenters...Frank Gardner and Gary Donoghue on the BBC news, Ade Adepitan on CBBC to name just a few. None of these appear to be there as a form of PC tokenism, but rather on account of their ability to do the job well. I know, from having met staff who run the CBeebies website, that they also have a strong commitment to make it as disability friendly as possible and welcome suggestions to improve it.
Back in the 1960's my father, as Head of a tiny, three teacher village school, appointed a teacher with one arm. He realised right from the start that there might possibly be one or two things this man would find hard. But he had a track record as a teacher, he was even able to teach football which my dyspraxic father couldn't, in fact there was very little he couldn't manage. The children were not in the least frightened or traumatised and it must have taught the children of that isolated rural community a very important lesson on diversity.
The BBC must continue to show and praise disability. Perhaps it should also make some programmes to educate those ignorant parents too.
Update: The BBC has a very perceptive piece on the whole storm in a teacup here.