Katherine Levy: The athletes have done their bit. Now it's up to the media

By Katherine Levy, campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 13 September 2012 08:00AM

If you have ever been afraid of anything or had a phobia, you might be aware of the exposure theory.

Katherine Levy: The athletes have done their bit. Now it's up to the media

It is the idea that the more you are gradually exposed to something you fear, the less scared you will be of it.

Now, be honest and ask yourself if you have ever feared disability. By fear, I mean to avoid or to turn away from. Who hasn't, in all honesty, given a severely disabled person in the supermarket a wide berth because we felt awkward or found it so upsetting that it was easier to look away? If so, then you have feared disability.

Channel 4's coverage of the London 2012 Paralympics - and the broadcaster's extras such as the documentary The Great British Paraorchestra - have been one big exposure pill for the British nation, reaching 37 million people.

How can it be possible to fear disability any longer when we have seen it blasted across our screens in HD every day for half a month, to the point that seeing a one-legged high-jumper, a swimmer with no arms and an archer who uses his feet to hold and aim his bow and his mouth to fire an arrow seems in no way out of the ordinary?

But while the exposure has been immense, there is still a mountain to climb. The Great British Paraorchestra, which featured the conductor Charles Hazlewood bringing together an orchestra made up of disabled musicians, introduced us to Lyn Levett, a music producer with cerebral palsy.

Levett said one of the things she found most difficult was that people who do not understand her condition presume that she has a lower mental age because of her physical disability.

So while there is further to go, it is the extraordinary power of TV that has helped make such a dent in our collective fear and prejudices regarding disability. It is something that only the reach and magnitude of TV could do in such a short space of time.

And as Russell Davies wrote in Campaign last week, we may one day get to a point where disability on TV is representative of reality (and Glee is no longer the only feel-good programme to feature someone in a wheelchair).

In his closing address at the Paralympics, the LOCOG chairman, Sebastian Coe, said: "In this country, we will never think of disability the same way."

This might be true for the generation that has witnessed this incredible event on home turf, but it is now up to our broadcasters to ensure that future generations see a real and fair and as inspirational representation of disability on TV as we have seen this summer. If they manage that, then we can say confidently that we will never think of disability the same way again.

katherine.levy@haymarket.com

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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