Ruth Madeley's appearance on Celebrity Best Home Cook fills a major gap in disabled visibility

Rachel Charlton-Dailey
·5-min read
Photo credit: Mike Marsland - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mike Marsland - Getty Images

From Digital Spy

With no sign of Lockdown 3 going anywhere, we need some lovely comfort viewing. So it’s great news that BBC’s Best Home Cook is back on our screens, this time with a celebrity edition.

The ten celebs hoping to impress judges Dame Mary Berry, Angela Hartnett and Chris Bavin are reality TV star Ferne McCann, Welsh rugby legend Gareth Thomas, comedian Desiree Burch, ex-politician and broadcaster Ed Balls, TV presenter Karim Zeroual, reality TV star Tom Read Wilson, actor Shobna Gulati, comedian Ed Byrne, journalist Rachel Johnson and – finally, the one I’m most excited about – actor Ruth Madeley.

Photo credit: Mike Marsland - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mike Marsland - Getty Images

The reason behind my excitement is not just that Ruth follows me on Twitter and it means I get to brag about that again, but because Ruth is a disabled actor who uses a wheelchair.

It’s rare enough that we see disabled people on TV, but it’s even rarer that we see them on cookery shows.

When disabled people are on TV, its usually because they’ve done something inspiring or tragic. They pop up on Breakfast TV, walking for charity or on soaps fighting for their rights. It’s not often you see them just living their lives like everyone else.

Of course Ruth is by no means the first disabled person on a cookery show, we’ve seen people like 2018 Great British Bake Off Semi finalist Briony May Williams, who has a limb difference and blind presenter Amar Latif, who appeared on Celebrity Masterchef last year.

But while she may not be the first disabled cookery show contestant, there’s always room for more representation, which we definitely need. Ruth is part of a subsection of disability that is often left out of TV inclusion: invisible disabilities.

Ruth is a wheelchair user, but she’s also an ambulatory wheelchair user – someone who doesn’t always need to use a wheelchair all the time. She can stand and move around without her chair as well using her chair too.

Many people with invisible disabilities, like Spina Bifida in Ruth’s case, don’t need to use mobility aides all the time, but this is very rarely seen on screen. When someone is disabled and uses a wheelchair on TV there’s no nuance. You either see them needing to use their wheelchair in every single part of their life or struggling to live without one. There’s no in-between.

A big reason showing disabled people as part of cooking and baking shows is important is that it’s often assumed that all disabled people are less capable than non-disabled people, but while many people know that’s not true, one of the reasons it’s still believed is because of the presentation of disabled people on TV.

Of course many disabled people do use their wheelchairs to get around everywhere and do everything, but not all do – and it’s great that now we will be seeing a different type of representation.

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

Because many people aren’t used to seeing ambulatory wheelchair users on a regular basis, they’re often confused when they do see a disabled person stand up. Ruth’s character Rosie Lyons in Years and Years left many doubting her disability when she to stood up out of her wheelchair and walked. The great thing about the character of Rosie, though, is that she wasn’t written as a disabled character, she was a fully fleshed-out character with a storyline about something other than her health who was written as a disabled character after a disabled actor auditioned.

This is why it’s so important to show not only a wide spectrum of disability, but that there’s no cookie-cutter disabled person. We are not just our disability, we all have interests and things we love. Which is another reason why Ruth appearing on Celebrity Best Home Cook is so great. It’s the perfect chance to show disabled people in a – for want of a better phrase – normal light. We’re not amazing inspirational beings overcoming our challenges because we regularly cook dinner for our family, we just like making food!

There’s still so much negativity around ambulatory mobility aide users – that we are faking or performing as more disabled – but people don’t see that we are capable with and without our aides. At the end of the day, disability aides are supposed to make our lives easier, so it makes no sense for us to use them when we don’t need to. Many of us can still do things like stand and walk unaided, but wheelchairs and canes just make life less painful. Would you pick the more painful option?

I hope that by appearing on Celebrity Best Home Cook Ruth will help ease the stigma around ambulatory wheelchair use, but more than anything I can’t wait to see how she does in the competition.

Celebrity Best Home Cook airs on January 26 on BBC One at 9pm, and you can also stream it on BBC iPlayer.

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