UK – People with intellectual disability in TV shows

To read on Mencap website:

Note: In the UK, the term of ‘Learning disability’ is used instead of ‘Intellectual disability’.

Raising the profile of learning disability in TV

Amy Clarke  20/04/2015


There aren’t enough people with a learning disability on TV, but if there were more it would raise awareness and challenge some of the negative attitudes that still exist in society. The following five popular TV programmes get a thumbs up from me for showing learning disability in a positive light…

Call The Midwife

The popular drama series set in the 1950s deals with issues about childbirth. In one episode Colin Young, who has a physical disability, and Sarah Gordy, who has a learning disability, had a storyline about how their characters met and fell in love, and ended up having a baby. In the 1950s it was frowned upon for someone with a learning disability to have a child, even though they were doing nothing wrong. It was important as well that the two actors playing people with disabilities had disabilities in real life #Inclusion.

You can read an interview Colin Young did with Mencap here.


The soap has featured stories about learning disability in the last year. In one storyline Billy and Honey Mitchell’s daughter Janet, who has Down’s syndrome, leaves the UK to live abroad. Janet gets to live with Billy in the end, which is good as she get to know both her parents. It’s great that a programme like Eastenders, which has millons of viewers, has shown a young person with a learning disability being part of her community and not hidden away in a home.

The Undateables

It has divided people’s opinions for being controversial, but in my view The Undateables on Channel 4 has been excellent so far. It’s a reality TV show where people who sometimes have a physical or learning disability find love through the help of a dating agency. One couple even got married recently. If I had one criticism is that the show should be called The Dateables, as everyone is suitable for romance of friendship.

Mr Tumble

The children’s show on CBBC features a clown called Mr Tumble, played by Justin Fletcher, who signs in Makaton. Justin Fletcher also plays all of the family members too! The show includes videos of children with disabilities and it’s been praised for being accessible for young people with a learning disability. Mr Tumble has sometimes been described as having a learning disability and I think it’s important to have a kids programme where the main character has a disability, even if the actor Justin Fletcher doesn’t have one, because young children can then get used to seeing people with a disability not only on TV but in real life too.


A musical treat. Glee is a musical-filled comedy from the US about a singing club for people who don’t seem to enjoy their time at high school. Glee had a great character called Becky Jackson, played by Lauren Potter, who has Down’s syndrome. She’s funny and sarcastic to the people she meets, and in one episode she even has Dame Helen Mirren speaking her thoughts. Becky is a great character and role model for people with or without a learning disability.

In another episode a character called Sue Sylvester (played by Jane Lynch) has a sister called Jane who had a learning disability and sadly died. The Glee cast sang Pure Imagination from Jane’s favourite film, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, at her funeral.

These are just five popular programmes that either feature or discuss learning disability issues. But there are still many TV shows that don’t, and this needs to change as the more people hear about learning disability through the media, the more people will accept and understand each other.

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