‘We have full lives’: Disabled soap fans speak to the stars who represent them

Coronation Street and Waterloo Road stars Cherylee Houston and Jo Coffey reflect on representation (Picture: Cherylee Houston/Jo Coffey)

There is currently a rising drive for more real, sincere, and significant on-screen representations of handicapped people in soap operas, in an industry that has so frequently disregarded their inclusion and representation.

As I previously wrote, viewers who can best connect may find it refreshing that soap operas are beginning to depict some of the messy and true aspects of handicap.

Disabled performers expressing their personal experiences may give a depth to narrative that can only come from lived experience — and can assist others, as Dr. Kirsty Liddiard from the University of Sheffield says to Metro.co.uk.

Thus, it is crucial to keep having these discussions and to take into account other viewpoints, both for the handicapped population and for the larger public.

Here, handicapped individuals were given the chance to interact with disabled soap opera stars in order to start a conversation and gain clarification on issues that are important to them.

Michelle de Oude asks Cherylee Houston (Izzy, Coronation Street)

Michelle, who was born blind, has held a number of project and service management positions in the public and nonprofit sectors, frequently in connection with problems of equality. Most recently, she has worked for organizations for disabled people.

She inquires about Cherylee Houston’s most recent position in Coronation Street, which she has held since 2010, as machinist Izzy Armstrong. Aside from that position, Cherylee established DANC (Disabled Artists Networking Community) and TripleC, which won a BAFTA.

While a disability-related “story arc” in a soap opera often has a beginning, middle, and finish as well as a resolution that “puts the story to bed,” in reality, handicapped individuals must constantly deal with obstacles and inadequate assistance.

Does this frustrate you, or do you think it can be a positive?

Most of Izzy’s storylines have not focused on her disability (Picture: ITV)

I believe that one very positive aspect of Izzy is that we don’t intentionally discuss disability all that often. Some of it is the true center of my plots, especially COVID, which the authors planned since they wanted to show how it has affected persons with disabilities.

But frequently, they merely make passing mention of issues, or I mentally remind myself to schedule a severe pain day during an episode.

Izzy is on half a day, Carla says, “Izzy is on half a day,” or I remark, “I’m on half a day,” which signifies that it’s suddenly added to the plot. I also occasionally hear or read another character talking about me leaving early.

However, it isn’t promoted or used as a significant story. In a way, I appreciated the subtlety since it brought back memories of some fairly significant occasions, such as falling out of my chair and getting harmed, as well as the plot involving cannabis. I’ve had quite a few, but is she still always in agony, you know? People occasionally bring up her suffering again. They never forget it, but like everyone else in real life—including us—we don’t really talk about it.

We keep playing those realistic beats, making it seem as though Beth is always attempting to hang things from my wheelchair since she never learnt her lesson.

Because she is around the entire time, we do insert those unwritten beats, which makes the tale seem much more realistic. Because of our disabilities, there is no beginning, middle, or end.

Your personality is quite “rounded.” She has a son, works, and has been in relationships. Do you think the authors are trying to portray a true sense of what our lives are like and not simply our disability?

They gave her a complete life because they gave us both full lives, and I believe that is why I truly appreciate what they have done. Additionally, I believe that the stereotype of the disabled on television is frequently about the disabled. They portray that as a personality or character attribute. It isn’t. But this is how it is written pretty frequently. They informed me they didn’t want it when Corrie first started, back in the day.

I enjoyed how Izzy and Gary got along and how well they co-parent now that she is a mother and has a family in a different way. She gets along well with Maria as a coparent. Additionally, we’ll be sure to exchange brief glances with one another when we give over Jake to demonstrate that it’s not weird.

That’s wonderful because it plays against all of the prejudices that people tend to adopt. She has several challenges as a result of it, but they aren’t as apparent because handicapped people are solution-oriented and go on with their lives.

‘I really enjoy the character of Alex, he’s simply there doing his job and living, and I feel it is a more realistic way to portraying handicapped folks,’ Michelle continues in reference to other characters in the program who are representational.

I really like the humor added to the plot concerning Deaf BSL users, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they continue to enhance Aled’s schooling as he gets older.

Faith Martin asks Jo Coffey

Faith is a journalist with cerebral palsy who covers music and disabilities. Jo Coffey, a comedian, actor, writer, and producer, answers her questions about her current role as PA Wendy Whitwell in the television series Waterloo Road.

How did you find playing Wendy considering how poorly the media and general public portray disabilities in regular education?

Jo was thrilled to land the part in Waterloo Road (Picture: BBC)

In Wendy’s opinion, she is a much better school PA than any of the instructors. I can only speak from my personal perspective, but I’m happy that I get to portray a powerful, hilarious, handicapped character whose impairment isn’t the focus of the narrative.

I wanted to portray a humorous comedic figure who didn’t need to explain her condition in order to normalize disability on television. Let’s be honest. The majority of people would be frightened to discuss “height” with Wendy anyhow!

How has she managed to carve out her own niche in a program like Waterloo Road, which has great expectations given its prior popularity?

I’m a huge admirer of Waterloo Road, so when it came time for the read-through, I felt a little overwhelmed. I adored the last series, and there were Angela Griffin and Adam Thomas seated across from me at a table.

The positive reception from the crowd and fans has been incredible, and that has really helped. It’s fantastic to know how much everyone loves about the characters because it motivates you to produce a very strong show for the viewers!

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