ITV soap opera Coronation Street is set to broadcast a storyline that highlights the challenges disabled people have faced trying to work remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.
The story will focus on Izzy Armstrong – played by Cherylee Houston – who has been working from home throughout the pandemic. But her job is put in jeopardy when her bosses insist she returns to the office despite still being at risk of contracting Covid-19.
Corrie’s Izzy Armstrong faced with the sack due to struggles working from home
Coronation Street will be highlighting the plight faced by millions of disabled people during the pandemic and the pressures they are under trying to work remotely whilst shielding.
Soap viewers have already seen bosses Carla Connor and Sarah Barlow help Izzy Armstrong work from home, after her on screen ex-partner informed the factory bosses of Izzy’s struggles. He suggested that they send one of the sewing machines to Izzy’s home so that she could still work remotely.
However, behind the scenes Izzy has been struggling to keep up with the workload and things will come to a head soon when she faces the threat of the sack.
With Carla becoming increasingly frustrated by what she sees as substandard work from Izzy, she tells Sarah that the situation is untenable and if Izzy refuses to come back to work, they’ll have to get rid of her.
When Sarah video messages Izzy, Izzy’s concerned neighbour Fergus steps in and tells Sarah that Izzy is struggling and needs to put her health first.
The reaction of Carla reflects the real-life experience of many disabled people in Izzy’s position.
Cherylee Houston shielding and filming from home
Actor Cherylee Houston, who plays Izzy Armstrong in the soap, was diagnosed with a rare condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome at the age of 23 and uses a wheelchair. She has been fully shielding since March 2020.
Although Izzy has already made few appearances via a video call, it will be the first time since the pandemic started that Corrie fans will see Izzy in her home environment.
As Cherylee is still shielding, the scenes were filmed by Cherylee Houston and her partner Toby Hadoke at their Manchester home. Toby, who is also an actor, joined the cast as Izzy’s concerned neighbour Fergus.
Cherylee is relishing the opportunity to be able to work from home in a mixture of video link scenes and specially shot moments between Izzy and Fergus.
Speaking to The Mirror, Cherylee said: “I have been unbelievably fortunate that my employers enabled me to continue shielding after the official shielding guidance ended in March.
I’ve been so supported by ITV, but I’m aware that many of my disabled peers who were previously shielding haven’t had that safety.
Many have been forced to make the decision to earn money to survive whilst facing the real fear of death or serious illness through Covid-19.
There is 14.1 million people in the UK, that is one in five of us. We are employees, carers, front line workers, volunteers and a key part of every community. The pandemic has had an incredible impact on many disabled people due to social isolation, certain services being unavailable and a lack of understanding.”
The show’s writers and producers have collaborated with Cherylee for many months on the storyline.
Coronation Street Producer Iain MacLeod said: “We had to think outside the box in order to tell this story, devising new protocols and ways of scripting scenes that would allow Cherylee to film the scenes herself in her home.
It certainly helped that her partner Toby is a fabulous actor! Despite all the technical challenges we had to overcome, this was a story that needed telling and I hope it will resonate with millions of people who have found themselves in a similar position to Izzy – and perhaps open the eyes of millions of others who had little awareness of the issues facing disabled people during COVID.”
Study found disabled people have been “treated unfairly” during the pandemic
Izzy Armstrong’s upcoming storyline on Coronation Street highlights the reality of many disabled people’s struggles across the UK.
In a survey carried out by YouGov, disabled workers said that their disability or shielding status meant they were treated unfairly, and worse than other colleagues during the pandemic.
Statistics include one in 13 (8%) saying they were subjected to bullying and/or harassment, and 12% were concerned their disability had affected their chances of a promotion in the future.
You can watch Coronation Street on ITV and catch up on the ITV Hub.
By Emma Purcell
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