The other day I was having a cup of tea with a friend while her two girls, aged one and three, were watching CBeebies.
Suddenly my friend winced. ‘What do you think about her?’ she asked, gesturing towards the TV. ‘It’s a bit awful, isn’t it?’
She was talking about Cerrie Burnell, one of the CBeebies presenters.
Cerrie is a warm, friendly, attractive woman who happens to have been born without a hand. She takes her disability in her stride and has chosen not to wear a prosthetic arm.
‘Well, it doesn’t bother me – and it doesn’t seem to bother the kids, either,’ I said. ‘No you’re right,’ my friend replied. ‘But there have been loads of complaints about her.’
Later on I decided to google ‘Cerrie Burnell’ – and couldn’t believe how many parents had posted messages about her, calling her ‘scary’. One dad has even banned his child from watching CBeebies altogether, because she will give his children 'nightmares'.
I doubt very much that little ones are instantly repelled by Cerrie. After all, they watch a slightly disturbing talking sponge and a group of unintelligible creatures with TV aerials sticking out of their heads with no apparent ill-effect. They should be able to cope with seeing another human being with a slight disability.
I think that what happens is that parents overreact, and voice their disgust to their kids. Children are very susceptible to the power of suggestion, and that's why it's up to us to ensure they don't fear, isolate or reject anyone who might be different to them.
written by Liz Jarvis