By Richard Harris
I sit with certain family members, watching TV and cringe every now and then at their reaction to people and situations. For example, I have noticed, recently that the BBC has begun to deploy disabled news readers and weather presenters. We have a generation or two of people in this country who will see the difference between the physical appearance of the people delivering the news before they start to take heed of the news itself.
I personally try to avoid the British Broadcasting Corporation wherever possible with the exceptions of Radio 3 and BBC Parliament, because one needs an injection of culture every now and then and it’s hard to put any bias on a live feed.
I remember back in the latter part of the last decade there was a young presenter on the corporation’s CBeebies channel who had one arm. There was a controversial reaction from parents the country over; you see parents said that it was frightening their children.
Now here in Britain we follow the convention of the social model of disability to define our boundaries of perception rather than the outdated medical model. The Social model of disability has been implemented since the introduction of the Equalities Act in 2010 and refers to the person having their ability removed by society; hence the word dis-abled.
When Cerrie Burnell appeared on CBeebies it was the perfect opportunity to retune the perception of young minds. But parents across the land complained bitterly through their own narrow minded bigotry.
Lucy Martin is a weather presenter here in my native East Midlands, Lucy is a very capable person but she happens to have a stumped right arm; the BBC was criticised for being politically correct in employing her as a weather presenter.
As a Conservative and a Thatcherite at that I believe wholeheartedly in meritocracy. After all we made a working class nomad from Brixton Prime Minister and we have had two female Prime Ministers before Labour have elected a female leader.
At 13 I was told that I’d never take a GCSE exam. I stand before you now with 14 GCSE’s; 4 A-Levels; 2 City and Guilds and a Batchelor’s degree. I am the epitome of meritocracy and aspiration and I embody my Conservative values every day of my life.
I’ve always despised the idea of candidate quotas and specified short lists, I have always maintained that whether it be all women lists or female quota lists; Disabled or LGBT quotas, there are plenty of excellent quality politicians across the party who are there on merit.
So in the case of the media and in politics, my message is this: “look beyond the disability, be it physical; mental or somewhere in between; challenge the perception of normality that has been handed down through the generations.”
It goes deeper than that though, I want the next generation to believe in meritocracy and aspiration. I say this tirelessly but the biggest freedom that my biggest idol, Baroness Thatcher fought for was aspiration; the freedom to dream. I am a passionate Thatcherite and that means that I I still into the future generations that I speak to, the idea that they can do anything that they put their mind to.
Let’s create a world where aspiration and dreams are achievable for all.
Richard Harris is Disabilities Spokesman for Parliament Street