Why is disability still portrayed as a punishment?

Coronation Street character Josh Tucker recently became blind after side-stepping justice and escaping jail. Does his new disability mean it’s a form of punishment? A sort of retribution? Our writer Raya believes it certainly seems that way…  

It is 2018 and, although we still have myths to bust and stigmas to break, attitudes towards disabled people are slowly improving.

However, there are still some who believe that disability is a form of punishment, a kind of karma for someone’s past mistakes. My disability is visible and, like many others, I have often encountered strangers in the street who were very eager to tell me that Jesus loves me or that God is washing my ‘sins’ away.

Some people have even suggested that my predicament is a result of my parents’ wrongdoings.

Despite knowing nothing about me, they are instantly certain that my experiences as a disabled person are continuously negative, and that it has been served as a punishment.

Coronation Street: Josh Tucker’s disability ‘punishment’

To hear this view or meet people who express such an opinion is irritating. But to see it portrayed on TV made for very uncomfortable viewing. Being a huge fan of ITV’s long-running soap Coronation Street, I have always been impressed by its hard-hitting storylines and complex representation of disabled characters. But a few weeks ago, I was taken aback by the incorporation of disability as a means of punishment or unofficial justice.

The storyline began when the character David Platt, played by Jack Peter Shepherd, was raped by Josh Tucker, played by Ryan Clayton. Due to lack of evidence, Tucker escaped the legal punishment he deserved. This angered the soap’s fans, but portrayed a reality – many rape crimes do go unpunished.

Former soap producer Kate Oates had always argued that any punishment in the soap might not be of a legal nature. “In soap, a lot of the justice comes from the community.” A few weeks ago this ‘justice’ came in the form of visual impairment, as the character of Josh was beaten up so badly that it left him partially blind.

The negative portrayal of disability as a form of ‘justice’

As I watched this story unfold, I could not help but feel extremely uneasy.

My mind went back to when England’s former football manager, Glenn Hoddle, left his position after expressing similar views about disability. He suggested that people born with disabilities were being punished for their sins of a former life. Rightly so, people were outraged, and under public pressure, he soon resigned.

This happened more than 20 years ago. So why, after all these years of progress, has there been no public outcry about this portrayal of disability? I strongly believe that Coronation Street is reinforcing the extremely outdated message: disability is a punishment. Do the soap makers not realise the powerful impact it has across the country? How its storylines affect people and shape general opinions?

Prejudice against disabled people is still a big issue in our society. Often when I witness a discussion or argument between a group of non-disabled people, you undoubtedly hear derogatory disability-terms being used as an insult.

More than 7,000 hate crimes against disabled people were recorded as criminal offences in the past year, and it’s likely that many incidents were not reported.

With ratings sometimes exceeding six million viewers, Coronation Street has the opportunity and a responsibility to use its storytelling to explore and expose harmful stereotypes. It should be replacing them with rounded characters and surprising story arcs, without being disrespectful.

In the past, controversy has followed Corrie’s twists and turns, yet there has been little public reaction to this storyline. Why? Is the medieval idea that disability equals punishment not just in the minds of a few strangers who accost me in the street, but a deeply ingrained, unconscious bias that has resisted the disability equality movement?

I am often asked “what happened to you?” when people see me. Without reciting my entire medical history, I try my best to explain what muscular dystrophy is. After this storyline, I wonder whether people will drop the ‘what’ and ask; “why did this happen to you? Did you do something wrong?”

By Raya Aljadir

What do you think of the storyline? Do you think it portrays disability as a punishment? Join the debate by leaving your comments below, messaging us on Facebook or tweeting us @DHorizons.

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