Last summer, while on holiday, we took the children to a huge water park where they met their first disabled child.
Daniel and Mia were utterly fascinated with the skinny, young boy racing around in his bright red swimming trunks. He had just one arm and only three fingers on his other hand.
At first they were quite frightened and asked question upon question upon question (and very loudly!) and they simply could not take their eyes off this strange little figure who was so perplexing and slightly scary to them.
But we talked about it, I explained why things like this happen and at the end of the hour they were splashing around with him and throwing water at him like he was any other child.
They had totally forgotten what had frightened them, absorbed the “wow, that’s amazing” information and moved on.
I’ve had similar experiences when they met a girl with Down’s Syndrome (who is now my son’s go-to girl when he’s playing on the Wii at after school club because “she’s the best”) and a girl in Daniel’s class who has a growth problem.
It has never ever been an issue, but a learning experience and both of my children are happy to listen and understand.
Which is why I was utterly floored when I read that the BBC has received a flurry of complaints about a new children’s TV presenter who has one arm because she is scaring youngsters and is not suitable to appear on the show.
What? Are these people serious?
I must admit I hadn’t noticed her disability at first (her arm is missing from the elbow down) but only realised when Dan said: “look mummy, that lady’s like our friend from holiday.”
Other than that she is like every other children’s TV presenter – bright, slightly too perky and all about the fun, fun, fun!
But the BBC has apparently recieved 9 formal complaints about Cerrie Burnell, a mother of a four-month-old daughter, who was born with one arm.
Some messageboard comments became so vitriolic that they had to be removed.
One wrote: ” ‘Is it just me, or does anyone else think the new woman presenter on CBeebies may scare the kids because of her disability?”
While another said he wouldn’t let his daughter watch because he was worried it would give her nightmares.
I read all this and my heart sank. How desperately desperately sad.
What kind of message is that passing on to our children?
Is it really that difficult to explain disability to a child?
We don’t all grow up looking the same and children need to know that from a very young age.
But then I wondered, is it too much for children to see at such a young age (children as young as 2 watch the show)? Or should we be celebrating in Cerrie’s success and using her as a means of education?
I would be really interested to hear your views on this.