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Lee Ridley headshot

Britain’s Got Talent Leads Way in Disability Inclusion

Lee Ridley wearing shirt saying "I'm only in it for the parking" against white background

Lee Ridley

Rockville, Maryland, June 4 – The story of Britain’s Got Talent 2018 is a story of two hilarious comedians who happen to have disabilities finishing in the top 2: Lee Ridley and Robert White.

Lee Ridley, Lost Voice Guy

After receiving more than two and a half million votes, Lee Ridley, who goes by Lost Voice Guy, won this season of Britain’s Got Talent. His prize is £250,000 and a spot on the bill at the Royal Variety Performance in front of the Queen. According to The Sun, Ridley also will be appearing as a guest on America’s Got Talent this summer on NBC.

Ridley is a comedian with cerebral palsy who uses an iPad and a speech-to-text application to communicate. He wrote out his jokes ahead of time and, as one of the judges pointed out, hit the play button with perfect comedic timing, and won the nation over. He wore a different blue shirt in each round, with jokes such as “I’m only in it for the parking” and “I’m a friend with benefits” written on them. His first audition included the joke “when I realized I couldn’t talk, I was speechless” and the punch lines only got funnier from there.

Robert White wearing a green shirt and sweater vest performing behind his keyboard

Robert White

Robert White, Musical Comedian

Coming in second place was Robert White, a musical comedian who played piano and wrote songs about the judges. He is openly gay and also on the autism spectrum. White talked about both of these things as a part of his act, and received high praise from the judges even as he was roasting them.

Busting Stigma on Disability

As a person with a disability myself, I was particularly impressed with how the show presented these two acts. They were presented in a way that was not designed to elicit pity; they were presented as talented comedians who happened to have disabilities.

The video introduction that played before Ridley’s semi-final performance is a textbook example of how to portray disability correctly on television. Sometimes on these shows, the judges’ comments verge on inspiration porn, which the show Speechless accurately defined as “a portrayal of people with disabilities as one-dimensional saints who only exist to warm the hearts and open the minds of able-bodied people.” Thankfully, this season was significantly better. The judges were focused on the talent, not the disabilities.

Reality television often is noted for breaking down various barriers, and when it comes to addressing disability, there is no exception here. Ridley and White are just two examples of how Britain’s Got Talent is part of a group of reality television shows leading the way in busting stigmas on disability. But I have been watching reality competition shows for a long time, and I never have seen a show that has done this good a job at portraying disability in a positive, accurate light. My hope is that people like Ridley and White can help push the UK toward being more inclusive of people with disabilities in all other aspects of society.

Meet the Author

Eric Ascher

Eric Ascher is the Communications Associate for RespectAbility. He is responsible for supporting RespectAbility’s Vice President, Communications in developing and implementing advocacy efforts and communications of various types. Ascher manages RespectAbility’s social media channels, website and emails; organizes and develops webinars; and supervises Communications Fellows.

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