The Simon Heng Column A service user’s view of social care

One of the constant sources of sorrow (or anger) among many
disabled people is the lack of positive depictions of ourselves in
the media, either in current affairs or the creative arts.

The few examples that do occur are nearly always stereotypical,
even when they show true events. Brave, as in the film Inside I’m
Dancing, tragic and heroic, like the actor Christopher Reeve, or
sinister – read or watch any news article involving mental health

But recently, I watched Finding Nemo with my daughter, and
discovered a film whose every character has some form of
disability, and in which those disabilities not only shape the plot
and form the basis of the comedy, but which are also treated as
part of everyday existence. Nemo’s underdeveloped fin is called his
“lucky fin” by his father, who attempts to get his son to see his
disability in a positive light. The father himself suffers from
post-traumatic stress syndrome, having seen the rest of his family
slaughtered by a barracuda.

On their adventures, they meet sharks who are trying to beat
addiction, a flat fish with visual impairment, a dory who cannot
form memories, squid with incontinence, turtles with poor parenting
skills, a hero with facial disfigurement, an obsessive-compulsive
shrimp who cannot stop cleaning, fish tank inmates showing
institutionalised behaviour (one that shouts “Bubbles!” every time
they emerge, and another who talks to her own reflection), a
starfish who has to be holding on to something at all times, a
blowfish with anger management issues, an alcoholic pelican and
gulls with learning difficulties.

When put like this, it seems as if the film-makers were overdoing
the disability awareness thing, but it seemed natural for the
characters to be the way they were. I’m aware of the gloss and
optimism that Hollywood puts into any children’s film, but what a
good way to introduce our children to the idea of “different and
equal”. Much better than some of my experiences, when children are
snatched away from my wheelchair, and told to keep quiet when they
ask “What’s that man doing?”.

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