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  • Writer's pictureKyrby Brown

Sex Education - My Response to the Disability centric moment!

Representation within the media is among one of the hottest topics of the digital age. It’s a consideration across all forms of media and a contentious subject among the general population. Sex Education is a show that has long been known for its progressive and daring attitude towards anything a bit different and season 4 very much (arguably a bit too much) followed the same trend.

Just to clarify here, I am a fan of the show, I like the characters, the writing and especially the location (of course, living in the Wye Valley makes me a tiny bit biased!). For the last few seasons I have been really appreciative of their inclusion of a main character with Quadriplegia (Isaac), as this is something so often left out in the cold when we think about media representation. Sexual orientation - tick, race - tick, disability - oh no! I was even more impressed when the reality of Disabled people as sexual beings, a topic often seen as far too taboo for mainstream media, was brought to the forefront in Seasons 2 and 3.

So, I was quite excited when they plotted Tony little hints throughout season 4 at the (not so) subtle challenges that everyday infrastructure might have on a wheelchair user. Lifts being a huge and essential part of our everyday lives - sidebar - isn’t it absolutely bonkers that something so essential is so prone to breaking #wouldnthappenifrequiredbythemajority

I totally felt Isaac’s pain and frustration, believe it or not my school lift once broke down on the way to my GCSE maths exam! I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t exactly gutted, well I wasn’t until I realised that platform lifts worked on a winching system so I was freed in about 25 minutes and another room was promptly prepared - no extenuating circumstances for my crappy algebra score!

Anyway, moving on to the topic at hand. I have no problem with the scene itself, it’s arguably one of the most realistic things to have happened. I even loved the staircase, barricade that followed, although this is significantly less realistic, but I can totally get behind the message that they were trying to send here. It is a message I spend much of my very real professional life propagating.

My issue with the scene lies with its rather blunt execution. The thing I took the most umbrage with was the sudden introduction of an entire school worth of Disabled people. Where had they been hiding all this time? I sometimes feels a bit like society drags Disabled people out from behind the curtain when a point needs to be made, when the actual foundational issue is that we were here all along! Accessibility became an issue on the show, so a few random Disabled characters were (very briefly) shoved into the spotlight. Until this point they had been hazy figures in the background, nothing of importance. Their voices were only heard in that very brief moment because there was a problem.

This is a (hopefully) unconscious bit of ableism that portrays the disability community as people with problems! Yes inaccessibility is a huge issue but it’s an issue that should have been gradually titrated throughout the entire show and not shoehorned into a 5 minute segment. It’s also an issue with society itself (and crappy infrastructure), Disabled people do have more to worry about than a broken down lift but we also have quite a lot to enjoy and celebrate as well. Trying to propose and compose these widespread and far-reaching issues into a 5 minute scene seems impossibly ignorant, and introducing several disabled characters on the basis of this moment felt a little bit patronising.

Whilst I’d like to thank the writers for their otherwise accurate and realistic depiction of disability, I feel that the ‘pat on the head’ that this scene represents was a lot too little a little too late. 

Image description: A picture of me and assistance dog Will on the Iron Throne (because honestly I had no idea what to use to accompany this post!)

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