This week parents across the country were rocked by the horrifying news that the BBC could consider axeing CBeebies, their channel aimed at preschool children. Cue lots of blog posts and the #savecbeebies hashtag on Twitter about how mums and dads are never going to be able to have a shower or blog in peace again. Which is true, by the way, but that’s not the point of this post.
In fact, we’re not likely to lose CBeebies any time soon. A recent blog post from the BBC Children’s Director, Alice Webb, seemed to confirm that CBeebies would be staying as most children still watch it on television.
‘As long as kids and parents continue to watch our output on our TV channels, we’ll continue to put our programmes there. CBBC and CBeebies are the most-loved channels in the UK for their target age groups and we’re incredibly proud of that.’
Alice Webb, Alice Webb, Director, BBC Children’s
Well, that’s great and all, but the underlying message seems clear: if children start to move away from watching CBeebies on tv and towards iPlay, then the channel could be in danger.
CBeebies is and remains virtually the only space on television which regularly caters to and involves children with disabilities of all kinds. It features a number of programs created with children with special needs in mind, including the wonderful Something Special, Magic Hands (poetry translated into BSL) and Melody (which introduces children to classical music using carefully designed animation and voiceovers to make it accessible for children with a visual impairment).
I have a child with autism. She’s four and a half years old. She does not talk. All the Makaton I know I learned from Justin Fletcher, and seeing children with disabilities on the channel has been an enormous help in coming to terms with having a child with a disability.
I’m sure a lot of children will start using iPlay But many, many children will not be able to, either because of a learning or physical disability, or perhaps because their parents feel uncomfortable about allowing their children to control their own programming in that way.
If the BBC are thinking that they will be able to axe CBeebies when more children start to use iPlay then it’s clear that they are thinking about ‘normal’ children and are not taking into account the needs of children like mine. It’s also assuming that everyone has access to broadband at home, so inevitably the poorest members of society will miss out on the educational programming that CBeebies provides.
Many others have spoken about what a wonderful resource CBeebies is; it is the only channel aimed at young children which provides quality educational programming WITHOUT endless advertisements, but it is also much more than that:
‘At CBeebies we believe passionately that what we do should be enjoyed by all children, including those with additional needs. We believe that it’s important for children a disability to see themselves positively represented on the channel, so we make every effort to do so. We also produce shows, activities and parenting resources for children with a range of different needs.’
From the CBeebies website
Obviously this is talking about the aims of an existing channel, but if that channel were to be lost these goals might be lost with it. I’m sure programs for children with disabilities will still be made, but being truly inclusive isn’t just about creating programs for people with disabilities to watch and download in the privacy of their own homes. How many people whose lives haven’t been touched by disability will actually watch those downloadable programs? Only by incorporating disability into everyday programming do you reach everyone and make steps towards creating a more tolerant and inclusive society.
Without CBeebies not only will there be virtually nowhere left on mainstream television where children with disabilities can easily see themselves positively represented’, but there will also be nowhere left that strives to normalise the sight of children in wheelchairs, children with Down Syndrome, children with autism, children with visual impairments, children who for one reason or another are not able to speak or walk.
This is why the thought of axeing CBeebies is jawdroppingly awful. You can make jokes about never being able to have a shower again or roll your eyes at lazy parents sticking their kids in front of the TV, but the reality is that CBeebies has been a godsend for me and for many other parents like me. Because it shows children like mine when virtually nowhere else does.
Please sign the petition over at Change.org and let’s keep this wonderful inclusive channel going.