Children in Need responds to criticism from disability campaigners

18 Nov 2022 News

BBC Children in Need (CIN) has defended its portrayal and treatment of disabled young people in its campaigns ahead of tonight’s annual telethon.

A former participant on the telethon has said CIN plays into problematic narratives that “other” disabled children, while a campaigner called it “exploitative”.

The charity said it prioritises the wellbeing of children featured in its campaigns and it aims to “celebrate and empower” the young people it supports.

‘Disabled people shouldn’t have to do this to get access to what they need’

Disabled_Eliza shared on social media how they regret appearing on CIN’s telethon and now wishes it did not exist. 

“Disabled children shouldn’t have to go on TV looking ‘sad’ and ‘pitied’ to be able to access basic tools like wheelchairs or support,” they said, arguing that the state should provide disabled children with what they need to thrive. 

They criticised their treatment on CIN, as they had to stay in “hot stuffy rooms” for hours which caused the symptoms of their disability to flare up. They no longer share their medical diagnosis publicly. 

Eliza continued: “CIN plays into the idea of the ‘poor disabled person’ and can ‘other’ disabled people encouraging us to be ‘pitied’ for life – we see these narratives continue into people’s overall view of disabled people.

“CIN often displays children disclosing their medical conditions and taking away that medical privacy in order to be able to access support for funding etc – but disabled people shouldn’t have to do this to get access to what they need… Disabled people deserve equal rights and I’m not sure CIN is achieving that.”

A spokesperson from CIN told Civil Society News: “Our main priority is, and always will be, the wellbeing of the children and young people that sit at the heart of our content, and have robust policies and procedures in place to protect their welfare, including long term after care for all of our contributors.” 

‘We can raise money without exploiting kids for pity likes’

Disabled content creator Nina Tame accused CIN’s telethon of exploiting children’s trauma. 

“Kids should not have to go on national TV and disclose their medical diagnosis or their trauma in order for people to put their hands in their pocket and donate. We can definitely raise money without exploiting kids for pity likes. We don’t need Coldplay blaring over a black-and-white shot of a kid looking sad. We don’t need inspiring music and disabled kids being held up as inspirational just because they’re disabled. It’s so bloody othering and mank.”

She claims that this perpetuates the idea that disabled people are “needy instead of needing equality” and “plays into these narratives and enables them to continue”.

“Chuck some cash at the kids once a year whilst still upholding the systems that make them disadvantaged the other 364 days?”

Another Twitter user that goes by the name of Touretteshero last year explained their experience of watching the show as a disabled child. On reflection, she finds it problematic that she was made to feel like someone that always needed “fixing”.

“I can remember bouncing round my home singing, ‘we are the children, we are the need’ at the top of my voice. To ten-year-old me being ‘the need’ was exciting. I felt a sense of importance - we had a song, a whole night of TV and a lot of wet-eyed celebrities. It was the only night of the year when I saw experiences like mine reflected on TV.

“But it also established in me the idea that I was faulty and needed fixing, an idea that took decades to shift.”

She lamented how the idea of ‘fixing’ disabled people was a concept that was still inherent in last year’s CIN telethon, as the theme song was Fix You by Coldplay. 

“I don’t believe that pity is the only way of raising money and I’d like to see CIN working with disabled people to imagine new ways of framing and contextualising our stories,” she said. 

CIN: ‘We are passionate about celebrating and empowering children’ 

Responding to these claims, a spokesperson from CIN said it is committed to empowering the children and young people it supports. 

A spokesperson said: “As a charity, we are passionate about and committed to, celebrating and empowering the children and young people we support, and do so every day of the year alongside our 2,200 local charities and projects who work tirelessly to help make a difference. Our programming champions the young people who share their stories, which above all, highlight how BBC Children in Need funding supports them to thrive and be the best they can be.”

Responding to Tame’s comments, CIN explained it is not afraid of showing the societal challenges facing the people we help and claim it is “absolutely right” for them to do so.
“As Nina Tame says, BBC CIN raises much needed cash and in light of the cost-of-living crisis and unprecedented levels of uncertainty which have created an environment that has had a dramatic impact on children and young people, it’s absolutely right that we shine a light on the societal challenges that prevent children and young people from achieving their full potential. These include, poverty, discrimination, mental health and family challenges and we do not shy away from this.”

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