Disabled woman “too scary” for TV according to some parents

// 25 February 2009

Oh yes, presenter Cerrie Burnell has been slated by some parents – did she go topless in storytime? Did she eat a live animal on TV? No she was born with no lower right arm and apparently that makes her unsuitable for children’s TV according to some bigots.

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.

Here’s a hint to any parent struggling with this – 1. get over yourself and 2. tell your kids the truth, some times some people are born with disabilities and sometimes they develop them in later life, it’s unlikely your child doesn’t know someone who’s asthmatic, diabetic or who becomes temporarily disabled by injury – does that give them nightmares too?

Comments From You

Kez // Posted 25 February 2009 at 4:29 pm

I find the attitude of some parents really outrageous here. Do they honestly believe that people with disabilities should be hidden away from society, or that their children will never encounter anyone with a visible disability? – how on earth would these parents cope if they had a child themselves who was born with or developed a disability? If children are asking difficult questions, then that can be perceived as a good thing – an opportunity to discuss and explain that there are lots of differences between people and it doesn’t make them “scary” or “bad”.

This says far more about certain parents than it does about young children, who in general are very accepting of difference. Sadly though, children take their cues from their parents, so doubtless a child whose parent expresses fear or disgust will learn that those are appropriate reactions.

maggie // Posted 25 February 2009 at 4:31 pm

I’m glad that you have chosen to post on this. What outrages me is that it’s even an issue in the first place.

People can become disabled throughout their lifetimes because of illness or an accident. Are they supposed to retreat from society, unable to bear the looks of disgust and pity or for fear of frightening the little children?

Save us all from those that cry ‘Won’t somebody please think of the children?’

Cerrie Burnell is a skilled and lovely presenter from what I’ve seen, long may she continue in her career.

Sabre // Posted 25 February 2009 at 4:44 pm

Yet another example of adults trying to project their prejudices by using the children as an excuse. Pathetic.

Reminds me of the Simpsons episode where the vicar’s wife keeps shrieking “oh won’t somebody PLEASE think of the children!” in situations that have little/nothing to do with children.

Anne Onne // Posted 25 February 2009 at 6:03 pm

Thank you for covering this! I heard about this from my mum, who rightly pointed out that it was discriminatory.

Firstly, I have to call bullshit on the parents talking about their kids being horrified. I have quite a bit of experience with kids, as do most people, and children at a young age really don’t know to be horrified by something. Kids don’t know how many limbs someone’s supposed to have: they don’t even know that horror films are scary!It’s only when they get to a certain age and comprehend and examine things. Kids are curious and blunt when looking at something, but rarely scared outright. It’s the same argument they use against same-sex parents: that kids will find it really odd, as if kids automatically know what ‘normal’ is. They don’t. All they will do is want to know.

So what we’re really looking at is parents wanting to avoid asking difficult questions. And asking for some people to be discriminated against to save you having to answer some questions is lazy as well as selfish.

Kids are really suggestible: if adults tell them it’s scary and horrible or mention it in front of kids, (which many do, I bet), kids take that in.

Besides, this is a great reason to have a discussion with your kid, a chance to tell them that some people don’t have two hands or two legs, and that it’s OK that they don’t. That if they see someone like that, they’re not scary, they’re not going to hurt you, they’re just the same as anyone else. This isn’t a difficult talk to have with a child (try it!), but we make these topics difficult if we choose to avoid them and wish disabled people will disappear.

I feel sorry for the kids, if any of them were actually affected. It’s not nice when someone is scared or intimidated or freaked out, and we do want to protect kids from this. But we can’t pretend a whole subset of the population don’t exist to save children some discomfort: it’s only exposure that makes us learn to understand and not be disturbed by disabilities.

People with disabilities are not obscene, but all too often, they are treated as if they are. Some parents are treating this as if porn was broadcast on kids’ TV, when all that happened was a presenter did what presenters do. She just happened to have one hand.

Also, what about the children who are themselves disabled, for whom seeing another person like them on TV will be an inspiration? Don’t they count? The idea that we can protect children from this reality is misguided, because many children are disabled. What does this say to them? That they and people like them are too scary for TV. Thanks. I’m sure they really appreciate it.

If someone really WAS thinking about the children, they’d be all for it.

I have to ask: what do the bigoted parents want? Should we remove all disabled people from the streets in case their overportected darlings look at them? I must admit I believe that most parents complaining are doing so on their own behalf, blaming their children when they really want to cover their own unease or disgust.

LilB // Posted 25 February 2009 at 6:20 pm

Oh well, my mother became disabled shortly after I was born. Don’t remember once being ‘scared’ or ‘freaked’ or even noticing that she was disabled until I was much older and even older before I really thought about it.

Disabled people are often parents too and their children have disabled parents is I guess what I’m trying to say.

Aimee // Posted 25 February 2009 at 6:50 pm

There’s a little girl in my school with a very similar disability. Should she be hidden away from society? Is she too scary to be in school? The kids treat her like they treat any other child. This is ridiculous, horrible, nasty prejudice which is completely irrelevant and disgusting.

ConservaTorygirl // Posted 25 February 2009 at 9:39 pm

Crikey you’re late to the party on this one…

I had the Wright Stuff on when they had a phone in on this. It made me go off to playgroup in a huff – it’s just not a valid criticism.

One of the viewers said “you just don’t want to see that sort of thing at 9 o’clock in the morning” and it made me see red.

In my experience, kids are curious but not prejudiced. That comes from their prejudiced parents.

Betsy // Posted 25 February 2009 at 9:40 pm

My sister’s been wheelchair bound for most of her life, she has Rett Syndrome (www.rettsyndrome.org.uk)- and the number of people who stare at her in the street, not just children (forgivable, she does look ‘weird’, or at least unusual), but adults, who stare, or hurry past, or shush their children’s questions- it’s crazy.

I’d love to see more differently abled people on TV, as someone who grew up in a house where wheelchairs and disability were ‘the norm’, I’ve always felt (and I know my sister is) underrepresented on TV.

There used to be a brilliant programme about a wheelchair-bound basketball team, but I’m not sure it’s on anymore- maybe that was scary for children as well…

Josie // Posted 26 February 2009 at 8:07 am

I agree with Anne Onne – children don’t know what “normal” is and will most likely happily accept any explanation parents/adult give them. I work with children under 5 and their parents and am utterly horrified on a weekly basis at how totally ignorant many parents are about children’s development and awareness. All this lot are doing is revealing their own filthy bigotry. Get over yourselves indeed!

Louise Livesey // Posted 26 February 2009 at 11:49 am

Yep we were delayed – partly we all work without pay and do this alongside our regular work, volunteering, activism and family stuff, partly I forgot to hit “publish” after I completed the article the day before I actually published it. I blame both on overwork!

David // Posted 26 February 2009 at 1:06 pm

I remember a deaf child in my primary class, we were all just impressed he could talk with his hands. It wasn’t scary or unnerving at all.

If a kid asks, you tell them the truth appropriate for their age. Young kids will accept ‘some people were born without’, older ones will want to know why.

Mephit // Posted 26 February 2009 at 2:24 pm

Just to add, I think it’s shameful that this presenter is getting these complaints.

My son watches CBeebies, and he told me that she had one arm with some curiosity: it was a good opening to talk about “difference”. He wasn’t remotely repulsed or upset, just interested, and why would he be?!

It’s entirely these parents’ prejudices and laziness when it comes to it, in my opinion.

I wonder why Cerrie has caused more of a stir than, say, Ade Adepitan who has been appearing on CBBC for some years?

Ali // Posted 26 February 2009 at 5:07 pm

I was disappointed with myself when I realised I was a bit freaked out by this presenter’s disability. I found myself watching her arm. I didn’t mean to but I did find it a bit icky. And then I kicked myself in the shins and got over it. And so I am glad that this presenter, and other childrens’ programmes like ‘Something Special’, which features many children with various special needs and/or disabilities, are there for my toddler to watch.

I think it’s good for childrens’ tv and all tv in general to show all kinds of people, and not to strive for this fake, uniform ‘perfection’.

Rachael // Posted 26 February 2009 at 7:15 pm

I’ve been genuinely upset by this story. As someone with a fairly visible disability that I’ve had since birth I’ve grown up feeling ashamed of it and trying to hide it as much as possible, largely because of attitudes like this. Attitudes that say that if you’re disabled then you’re less capable, your life has less worth, that being frineds with you would be too much effort and that there’s something unnerving about you. I’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to try and pretend my disability doesn’t exist, not to mention it in the hope nobody will notice, and not to ask for any help in the hope that then you won’t be classed as vulnerable or needy. I’ve pushed myself to achieve things in the hope that success will somehow cancel out my disability but you can’t win, because, if you do succeed in life there are idiots ready to tell you you’ve been given an easy time because of your disability. I’ve seen plenty of comments about this presenter claiming she’s only been hired because of her disability, you know, all the ‘positive discrimination’ and ‘pc gone mad’ bigots. In a country where attacks on disabled people are not recognised as hate crimes (despite the institutionalised ableism which pervades society and encourages attitudes like those of the parents in this story) we really need a vocal, unapologetic disabled rights movement, because disability is something that all of us will encounter at some point in our lives and so, like feminism and queer activism, it’s something that could benefit everyone and that anyone could get involved in.

Anna // Posted 26 February 2009 at 9:50 pm

Someone used that argument with me, Rachael. I didn’t get it. If she’s only been hired because of ‘PC gone mad’ then surely that means no disabled person could be hired, like, ever, because they’re only getting there on basis of their disability.. so it’s okay to discriminate on basis of disability? I could understand ‘PC gone mad’ to an extent if she was a clearly terrible presenter. But she’s not. She’s ace and my little brothers love her.

rachael // Posted 27 February 2009 at 6:23 pm

Well, I deeply distrust anyone who uses the phrase ‘it’s political correctness gone mad’ it rings the same kind of alarm bells that beginning a sentence with ‘I’m not racist/sexist/homophobic/ but…’ does, it’s a good indicator that you’re speaking to a Daily Mail reader!

Marianne // Posted 2 March 2009 at 8:00 am

I can understand that some children may find it weird, strange or even scary. In my experience with kids, most young children live in a small circle (family, playgroup) and when they’re learning what the norm is, they only have a small group of people to draw on. If that group doesn’t include someone disabled, the first disabled person they meet will be strange and weird to them.

That’s why its so important to have a range of people on kids tv, both amongst the children and the adults – so every child sees someone similar to them, and someone different. By letting young children see her disability Cerrie is helping them to add it to their worldview and accept it as normal.

rita // Posted 9 March 2009 at 7:51 pm

I watched a discussion on the “wright stuff” show on channel five, and one of the guests on the pannel actually was agreeing with the fact that children get scared with this disabled presenter and parents were right to complain. I think what struck me most about her argument was when she said that those guests who disagreed and were saying that the parents should teach their children about difference and sensitize them and that there was nothing wrong with the presenter, were only saying that because it was the right thing to say. I thought to my self, that is your answer to why the children act scared. Are children born with discriminatory tendencies or do they pick them up as they grow depending on who they grow around?

Kez // Posted 10 March 2009 at 10:19 am

Rita – no, of course children aren’t born discriminatory, they pick up their cues from the adults around them. It’s disgraceful that this woman said people were only saying certain things because it was “the right thing to say” – an echo of that endless old chestnut “you’re just trying to be politically correct!”. As if nobody can genuinely hold anti-discriminatory views but only do so out of some misguided, hypocritical sense of PC-ness, and people who express discriminatory views are just being “honest” and saying what everyone else is afraid to. I find this attitude to be alarmingly widespread.

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