Alex Blaze

Parents need to get used to diversity

Filed By Alex Blaze | March 01, 2009 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Living, Politics
Tags: BBC, cerrie burnell, television

ViaCerrie Burnell.JPG Feministing, a children's BBC show hired a presenter who's missing part of her right arm. Some parents didn't like the hire that much:

Disparaging comments by adults about a children's presenter have led to an angry backlash in support of Cerrie Burnell, the 29-year-old CBeebies host who was born missing the lower section of her right arm. One man said that he would stop his daughter from watching the BBC children's channel because Burnell would give his child nightmares.

Parents even called the broadcaster to complain... some of the vitriolic comments on the "Grown Up" section of the channel's website were so nasty that they had to be removed.

"Is it just me, or does anyone else think the new woman presenter on CBeebies may scare the kids because of her disability?" wrote one adult on the CBeebies website. Other adults claimed that their children were asking difficult questions as a result.

The horror. Parents having to talk to their children. But how familiar is this to LGBT parents?

It's obvious that kids aren't being scared here - it's just that some grown-ups need to get over themselves and realize that they can't prevent their children from knowing about the people that make them uncomfortable.

Disabled people are underrepresented on TV. And lots of people assume, I suppose, that their kids can go through life without ever seeing someone who's disabled. But the message is loud and clear: people who are disabled as so awful that children can't see them.

What I wonder about is the kids who have parents, relatives, or teachers who are disabled. Are they being "scared" every day of their lives? And what about the kids who are disabled? What message is being sent to them when no one on TV is disabled as well?

Meanwhile, Burnell herself seems like an awesome role model for kids:

Burnell, who described her first television presenting role as a "dream job", has also appeared in EastEnders and Holby City and has been feted for performances in the theatre while also worked as a teaching assistant at a special needs school in London. She also has a four-year-old child. "I think the negative comments from those few parents are indicative of a wider problem of disabled representation in the media as a whole, which is why it's so important for there to be more disabled role models in every area of the media," she said in response yesterday.

"The support that I've received ... has been truly heartening. It's brilliant that parents are able to use me as a way of talking about disability with their children and for children who are similarly disabled to see what really is possible in life and for their worlds to be represented in such a positive, high profile manner."

One thing I'll never understand, though, is the need to "protect" children from knowing that other groups of people even exist.


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Spot on, Alex. OMG, this is so well analyzed.

We have a daughter with autism; I mention her on occasion on the Blend. She has been very successful in school (albeit reading and math at a K level; she's in 4th grade), in large part because ever since preschool, her teachers and therapists have worked hard to NOT isolate her from her "normal" classmates. She is confident and loves school and her friends.

The spec ed kids are very visible in the schools and mainstreamed into programs whenever possible. Very small school district and imo, one of the best in the state. All of the kids from K onward are active in assisting and supporting and do rotations in the spec ed departments; my elder daughter just started volunteering with some other older kids to help "clean up" during her last period study hall.

Last year as the middle school spec ed kids were walking from their homeroom to the front entrance to get on the bus to take them to the summer statewide Special Olympics events.

Imagine their surprise, when these 2 4th graders and their one-on-one therapists/teachers found that every hallway, all the way to the entrance, was lined on either side by every single student(4th through 8th) and faculty in the school, cheering them on and giving them encouragement.

I cried whn I heard about that and am now, just relating it. I could go on and on, with stories of support I have witnessed.

ALL KIDS NEED TO BE ACCEPTED. They grow into adults- and they will all be happier if accepted their entire lives.

Thank you, Alex, for a wonderful post.

Gerri Ladene | March 1, 2009 6:46 PM

I feel sorry for the children of that small percentage who called to criticize Cerrie's being a presenter on a children's show! Those children will be the ones who will become parentally misinformed! Cerrie should be admired for her courage in living a full and productive life while giving back to others at the same time. This is the lesson that the children should be learning from seeing her on the show and not the small minded criticism of those few uncaring parents!

Having watched an interview and news story (?CNN), I am just so amazed that her disability has become a news story. She seems like a really nice, enthusiastic and friendly person; I can see where her personality would interact well with kids!

It's always "What about the children?" arguments when a parent feels that he/she has no other solid arguments. Children evoke such a raw emotional response, that it's hard to argue against accusations because the trigger has already gone off in people way before a reply can be communicated and reasoned with them.

What assholes.

She's beautiful, intelligent and awfully sweet. I agree with Louise that her personality would interact well with the kids.

Regan DuCasse | March 4, 2009 3:51 PM

Now we know where people reach their level of incompetence to BE parents!
When they complain that their children will GASP! see or be exposed to a person is different from them, AND very accomplished!

Lying to children, hiding people and situations from them that are inevitable, comes around to bite.

If children aren't prepared for those real life situations that OBVIOUSLY won't harm them, or they are not taught the difference between the ones that might and the ones that don't...THIS is why there are so many unnecessary problems FOR gay and straight people alike.

Children are not dumb. In fact, the beauty of children IS their more accepting, yet INQUISITIVE nature. This is what should be keeping the adults around them honest, compassionate and mature.

Too bad so many parents and other adults in charge of children balk at THAT notion.