Disabled activists back Strictly wheelchair contestant rumours amid ‘ableist’ backlash

Disabled activists back Strictly wheelchair contestant rumours amid ‘ableist’ backlash
Strictly Come Dancing's James Bye and Amy Dowden dance to 'Bumble Bee'

It was only two months ago that wildlife presenter Hamza Yassin lifted up the glitterball trophy as winner of last year’s Strictly Come Dancing, but now attention is already turning towards who might take to the dancefloor this year, with a rumour the hit BBC competition has signed up its first celebrity contestant who is a wheelchair user.

According to the Daily Mail, a BBC source said it has been an “extremely challenging project” for those behind the contest, but they believe it will be “worth it” and be “absolutely brilliant”.

They added: “It is yet another example of how progressive and inclusive the programme is. As well as creating some wonderful television moments, it will also give an amazing opportunity to someone in a wheelchair.

“The original plan was that it would happen last year but the logistics are very difficult and to get a professional dancer trained and ready to take this on meant more work than was originally anticipated, so the most sensible thing to do was to put it off for a year.”

Of course, if the rumours are true, then it wouldn’t be the first time a disabled person has had a go at taking on Strictly.

EastEnders actress Rose Ayling-Ellis, who is Deaf, won the competition with partner Giovanni Pernice in 2021, while Paralympian Ellie Simmonds put on her dancing shoes last year.

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Before that, in 2018, the professional dancers from Strictly performed a routine to David Bowie’s 'Life on Mars' alongside the dance company Candoco – which is made up of both disabled and non-disabled artists.

So disabled talent has graced the show before, but that hasn’t stopped some individuals from posting “horribly ableist” comments in response to the rumours, with one describing the possible plans as “beyond ridiculous” and another writing the dancer competing against non-disabled people “can’t work” and “isn’t fair on anyone”.

“There is a reason there is a separate Paralympics,” they fumed.

Fortunately, disability activists and organisations were quick to explain why the rumour – if true – is pretty exciting:

In her thread commenting on the reports, Guardian columnist Frances Ryan wrote: “It’s a minor point but the number of people saying ‘the lifts are going to be hard’ makes me worry about Britain’s education system. These people genuinely think wheelchair users are ‘bound’ to the chair.

“Pretty sure the pro will lift the celeb, not them and their bloody wheels.”

The term “wheelchair-bound” is widely considered to be offensive by disabled people, who see their wheelchairs as “freedom”, rather than something limiting.

Though in the off-chance we haven’t said it enough in this piece already: it’s a rumour at this stage based on a source close to the show, though the BBC did decline to comment when the Mail approached them about it.

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