Wheelchair users can dance – so where are they on Strictly?
Posted by  badge Boss on Sep 24, 2023 - 08:36AM
The BBC had an opportunity – but it failed us (Picture: Shutterstock/BBC/Metro.co.uk)

Upon seeing the initial lineup rumours, I was elated.

Although there was no celebrity named, speculation was mounting that a wheelchair user would be a contestant. 

The idea of someone like me featuring on such a high-profile show was a hugely emotional moment.

is still so limited – but this casting had the potential to bring a wheelchair user into people’s homes week after week. It would give them a platform and to allow their story to unfold.

The community constantly grapples for basic rights and often feels invisible – we know that representation matters and that the media is an invaluable tool. So they quickly rallied around this possibility, and what it could mean.

Sadly, despite the rumours that stirred and swirled earlier this year, the final has been announced – and not one of them is a wheelchair user. 

To me, it comes as another devastating gut punch. 

As a child, I longed to attend dance classes and feel like every other little girl. To reach those milestones, cling to those notions, and be ‘normal’. 

But I never got to wear a leotard with a tulle skirt.   

When I was in primary school, a dance teacher told me that can’t dance – that it isn’t possible. That my body wasn’t meant for it, or built for it. It made me feel wrong and I struggled with feelings of isolation and difference for most of my life.

It comes as another devastating gut punch (Picture: Melissa Parker)

Since then, I’ve experienced many hardships and disappointments because my body wasn’t quite enough.  

I’ve been taught, bit by bit – through small but painful encounters of discrimination and exclusion over the years – to lower my expectations of seeing people who look like me on TV or the dance floor.

I know firsthand the feelings of marginalisation resulting from a lack of representation and participation. 

This ongoing struggle can weigh heavily on my mental and emotional well-being, and I know from experience the long-term effects can be devastating.   

When the rumours first spread, social media comment sections quickly became filled with discrimination, ignorance, and .

As one online commenter remarked: ‘I’m sorry about anyone in a wheelchair but if this is for real then sorry [but] we [will] stop watching. Then they will be having dancing dogs or cats as partners. Include everything on gods earth. Why not?’ 

I felt a surge of hot tears and a lump forming in my throat – it felt so close to the bone.  

For us, the gut punches don’t let up thanks to rife ableism in society.     

The often-repeated, and incorrect, argument is that having a wheelchair user on a dance floor would be unfeasible or impossible – ignoring the fact that variations of wheelchair dancing exist.  

Casting a wheelchair user on Strictly would have been an excellent opportunity to showcase the variety of the art form.

The BBC had a chance to do this – but it failed us. 

While it may be unfair to expect one TV show to embody all the complexities of the disabled experience, it’s not unreasonable to ask for greater inclusion. For more representation.

There’s no denying that, in recent years, efforts to promote in the entertainment industry have gradually gained momentum – but progress is often slow and hard-fought.

Disabled individuals are often depicted negatively – so showcasing our genuine experiences and providing us with a platform to present our full, fun, authentic lives in the media is vital.

But when was announced as the 11th contestant on the show, I instinctively knew there would be no wheelchair-using contestant.  

The community will proudly support him, but it’s clear that we have become used to, numbed to, the tokenistic approach – that we’re something to check off; that there will only be one visibly disabled contestant on the show at any one time.

Strictly’s decision not to include a wheelchair-using contestant is not only a significant loss for the disabled community but also a personal blow.

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