Down Syndrome character stars in RTE cartoonHave you heard about Punky? It’s not often that I’m proud of RTÉ, our national broadcaster here in Ireland, but today I was when I read this article: RTÉ launches new animation series Punky
Punky is a little girl who has Down Syndrome, and this cartoon tells the story of her daily life, dealing with the challenges that come her way. The show, developed by Monster Animation and Design, will be shown on RTÉjr from this Tuesday, May 3rd. Apparently, this is the first cartoon series with a Down Syndrome character in a leading role. I think it is wonderful.
I still remember the fuss back in 2009 when CBeebies introduced its new presenter, Cerrie Burnell. Cerrie was born with only one hand, and her missing hand caused uproar with some who claimed that her presence on the children’s TV channel was inappropriate or that it would somehow scare children. They said she was “not suitable” as a children’s TV presenter because of her disability. What kind of message were those parents giving their children? What else are people with disabilities not suitable for? They may have thought they were protecting their children in some way by shielding them from learning about disabilities, but I believe that all they actually achieve is fostering prejudice against people with disabilities.
I had forgotten the story until recently when we turned CBeebies on for Little Man one day, and Cerrie was on screen. I found myself immediately doing a double-take when I realised she was missing one hand, but I quickly got over it! And Little Man – well he didn’t notice anything at all. Of course, he’s too young to mention it if he did!
I love the fact that TV production companies are recognising and addressing the lack of diversity that sometimes occurs on our screens. Little Man is growing up in a diverse cosmopolitan society, and I think it’s important that he learns from an early age that people can be different – but that’s okay. I wish RTÉjr and Monster Animation and Design every success with Punky, and hope that I’ll have the pleasure of introducing Little Man to her in a few years time – once we get past this In the Night Garden phase!