Love Island 2019 returned to TV this summer with arguably the most diverse cast yet after previously facing accusations of fielding a predominately white cast and feeding body insecurities.
However, Love Island’s latest controversy comes after the surfacing of some pretty shocking home truths about disability representation.
Ever since the show exploded onto our screens back in 2015, there hasn’t been a single Love Island contestant who identifies as having a disability.
Of course, let’s not forget there was last year’s Niall Aslam , who only revealed his autism diagnosis after his exit from the villa.
During an interview on Loose Women early this year, the former Islander said the reason he didn’t tell producers about his autism was because he didn’t want to be labelled.
The fact that this was a concern already raises a red flag about the treatment of contestants on the show, not to mention the potential prejudices shrouding the selection process.
In February, when the 2019 applications opened, we contacted ITV to enquire about the
exclusion of people with disabilities on Love Island.
The response we received confirmed the under representation was actually a conscious decision.
Their first explanation claimed that "due to the nature and format of Love Island, the
implications for us to accommodate people with special needs is complex".
Coming from a leading champion of diversity, this remark seems particularly out of character.
By using the umbrella term "special needs", it suggests that all disabled people are the same and that major efforts would have to be made.
As for the format of the show, it’s very simple… Love Island whisks a group of hot and single 20 something year olds to a stunning villa in Majorca, where they spend the next eight weeks looking for love and hooking the nation.
What part of that would create complexity?
The email went on to note that with the show being based abroad, this may cause
issues with travel.
Perhaps 30 years ago they may have had a point but it’s 2019 and having a disability certainly does not stop people from leading a jet set lifestyle.
To top it all off, they brought out the big guns, revealing "the rented villa is currently not
adapted for people with disabilities" and "ITV2’s budget constraints mean that there are
limitations with regard to the very high insurance cost".
If they can afford to rent a luxury £10 million villa for the whole summer, it seems odd that ITV2 can’t stretch to a ramp and a disabled toilet.
Despite these claims, we were assured the email would be forwarded on to producers.
Now, five months later… the current series is well under way.
But while this year’s cast may be the most diverse yet, there remains no disabled contestant.
Producers have had more than enough time to adapt the villa which suggests that this isn’t just a question of shirking hefty insurance costs.
A recent statement from Love Island’s creative director Richard Cowles hinted at the true
He said that "yes we want to be as representative as possible" but we also want
them to be "attracted to one another".
Cowles’ words are to say the least disappointing because they convey how preconceptions about disability are still very much entrenched.
According to outdated stereotypes, disability strips you of everything from your personality to your sexuality and beauty.
All too frequently, we have seen how the media can be quick to disregard the person and instead focus solely on the irrelevant fact they have a disability.
To an extent, it is this degradation which is painting a bland and undesirable image of people with disabilities.
While representation on TV has undoubtedly improved over the last few decades, mainstream reality shows are an area which continues to be reluctant if not resistant to across the board inclusion.
As well as Love Island, popular series such as Made In Chelsea, Towie and Geordie Shore have never had stars who happen to have disabilities.
We spoke to columnist and disability campaigner Dan White to find out why reality TV is slow to join the movement of equal representation.
"When it comes to selecting contestants, shows such as Love Island perpetuate a manufactured image and if you don’t fit into their narrow template, it is immediately assumed that you are not beautiful," said Dan.
"Instead of embracing disabled talent, these shows are instead offering a vision of physical perfection."
When it comes to scouting contestants, Dan feels that preconceptions are dominating producers’ judgement.
"What people need to understand is that disability is just normal. It doesn’t change who you are or dictate your life.
"It shouldn’t be a shock to people that we do normal things like going to the gym, travelling, partying and having relationships.
"It doesn’t change the fact that we are confident, extrovert and opinionated. And it certainly doesn’t stop us from being hot."
It’s often disregarded how the consequences of under representation can impact upon the
Particularly for teens and millennials, there is a lack of disabled role models which can be incredibly damaging on body confidence and mental health.
Speaking from experience as a parent of a teen with a disability, Dan explained how his daughter Emily, 13, was aware of TV exclusion from a young age.
When she first got her wheelchair, one of the first things Emily said to her dad was "I don’t see disabled people on television because I thought they weren’t allowed".
We’ve seen how Love Island is extremely influential upon its audiences.
Therefore if they were to represent disability, it could have the power to break down misconceptions and change perceptions.
Louise Dyson, who is the founder of Visable the world’s first modelling agency for disabled people, agrees that exposure is the most powerful tool to normalise disability.
"When we established Visable, we set out to change the public’s mindset by changing the media’s mindset.
"Twenty-five years later, we are still the only agency of its kind."
When asked her thoughts on the comments from Love Island, Louise said: "On
the whole, ITV is a great client of ours.
"We’ve had a number of our people getting booked on series or appearing as panelists on day time television.
"While ITV holds responsibility, it is really the producers of Love Island who have the power to decide who makes the cast."
This morning ITV, commented: "We celebrate diversity of every sort across our range of
programmes and this year’s Islanders are from a diverse range of backgrounds with a mix
Obviously, it has been positive to see a more representative cast.
However it’s high time there was a bombshell arrival in the villa who just happens to have
a disability, and with six weeks still left to go, who knows?
* Love Island airs on ITV2 nightly at 9pm
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