There are more people like me on TV than ever before – so why hasn’t my life changed?

From Meryl Williams, a finalist on everyone’s new favourite reality show The Traitors, to Kiruna Stammel entering the GP practice on daytime soap Doctors. Annabelle Davis, daughter of Warwick, joining the cast of Hollyoaks, to Ellie Simmonds waltzing up a storm on Strictly and Francesca Mills, dry-humoured as ever, on The Witcher: Blood Origin.

It’s been an incredible couple of months for people with dwarfism in TV. 

There are more people that look like me on TV, showcasing disabled joy and awesomeness, than ever in my living memory. Whether acting, dancing, or reality tv contestant-ing, we’re seeing them in the fullness of who they are. We get to discover and enjoy their personalities, their talents and – like with all humans – the things they’re not so good at too. 

They’re not just shoved in front of a camera to talk about their medical diagnosis. They’re not just acting the part of the pitiful disabled person. They’re integrated, seamlessly and wonderfully, into multiple genres and contexts. 

I’m thrilled, obviously, about all these incredible women getting to fulfil their once unobtainable career goals, and in doing so paving the way for other disabled actors to follow suit. I’ll be honest, though, my life hasn’t changed since TV became more inclusive.

I’m still facing a PIP assessment. I’ve still got to contest my daughter’s refused DLA claim. I’m still saving up to hire someone to repaint my bathroom after a dodgy job (at 4ft I can’t quite reach to do it myself), I still need to get a stack of clothes altered to fit, because the legs and arms are always too long. 

I still need to raise funds to learn to drive (adapted cars and specialist lessons are expensive for those of us not on certain benefits) and yep, I still get filmed by strangers for doing something as ordinary as walking down the street with my mate. 

I’m still mocked, regularly, for my existence. And make no mistake, I’m very privileged within my community, because unlike many disabled people, I don’t (yet) have to worry too much about rising energy prices, losing my home, or not finding accessible work. 

As a white woman, I don’t experience racism and as an educated middle-class person, I’m able to advocate for myself in most contexts.

The truth is, representation is great, especially for younger generations, like my kids and their peers. Normalising not only the existence but also the skills and the range of disabled people in the media is vital and long overdue. 

But it’s not everything, and sometimes I worry that in fighting so much for representation – and celebrating those wins so loudly – we’re losing energy and focus for the bigger, more threatening fights our community is facing.  

The UK has been on the brink of recession since the Tories came into power, there isn’t nearly enough social housing (let alone accessible housing that meets the government’s safety standards) for everyone that needs it, energy bills are forcing people to choose between food and hot water, and healthcare – what healthcare?!

It’s a mess, and this class war and austerity crisis affects poor disabled people the most. Poor disabled people who are fighting – quite literally – for their lives in an environment so hostile and inaccessible that the barriers in place drastically and dangerously affect their quality of life. 

Meryl a woman with dwarfism standing in front of two people in cloaks with their faces covered by hood. They are all in front of a castle
Meryl Williams in The Traitors

Do I think seeing more women with dwarfism – or by extension, disabled people – in the entertainment industry is good? Yes. 

Do I think it could open further doors for other disabled people wanting to pursue similar careers? Yes. 

Do I think it might help disabled people to feel less alone, identifying with someone that looks like them on-screen? Definitely.

Do I think it will improve the quality of life of disabled people? No, not directly.

And that’s what we need, first and foremost. Improved quality of life, For all disabled people, but particularly those struggling the most. 

When we start our advocacy for people at the bottom, we can ensure those who are most affected are receiving the most support possible – and by extension, this will help people who are more privileged too. 

For example, changing the benefits system to better serve its most vulnerable claimants would, by extension, help those who are less vulnerable too (including me and my kid!)

It might not be super simple, but we all have the power to apply some kind of pressure, get our local councillors involved, write to our MPs, join advisory boards, join meetings, fundraise, change policies. No matter how small the contribution, no matter how local. It helps. 

So yes, by all means, let’s keep demanding and celebrating representation. Let’s keep having those conversations and making people see that we’re valuable and need to be in every room.

But let’s also use those representation wins to start demanding better for those in our community that aren’t lucky enough to hold the spotlight. 

Let’s direct the bulk of our vim towards the bigger fights, let’s shout about the danger disabled people face – the housing and healthcare and constant violent ableism.

We can celebrate later. Our community needs us.

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