It’s officially summer, which means Love Island is back on our screens and our calendars are now blocked out with a nightly dose of villa action, our branded water bottles nestling comfortably by our sides. With a gaggle of new hopefuls looking for love - and that cash prize - plus all the Insta fame anyone could ever handle, the nation is eyeing up their favourites already, despite being just one episode in.
Who is Hugo from Love Island?
Presumably as part of ITV’s vow to make the show more inclusive and diverse, this year we’ve welcomed Hugo Hammond to our screens - the first contestant to have a physical disability. Finally. With one in five people in the UK having some sort of disability, TV shows are finally catching up.
Hugo, a PE teacher who has previously boasted he’s a 'fine shagger', was born with clubfoot and underwent several operations as a child. Clubfoot is, according to the NHS, a physical disability that turns the foot or feet in and under, and is caused when the Achilles tendon is too short. More common in men than in women, around one in every 1,000 babies are impacted. Hugo has stated that you can tell he has the condition when he walks barefoot.
In the first episode of the series we saw Hugo, who has been single for six months, declare that he’s ready to meet the love of his life. Uncomfortably, however, not one of the girls stepped forward for him.
Although he picked lettings agent Faye, she ended up with Northumberland nana’s boy Brad, and Hugo eventually coupled up with the beautiful Sharon. But watching at home, I couldn’t help but feel that his confidence may now be knocked, something I'm familiar with as a disabled woman who has experienced the world often feeling like it's ignoring you.
The response on social media to Hugo not being picked was a mix of sympathy and adoration, but I don't suspect he particularly wants either. Since Hugo's involvement in the show was announced, news outlets and social media users have been quick to call him 'inspirational' just for having a physical disability and living his life. As a disabled person myself - I have a neurological condition which impacts my ability to walk, as well as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome - it didn’t take me long to see that Hugo was going to be utilised as a piece in a game of inspiration porn throughout the rest of the series.
What is 'inspiration porn?'
Most disabled people will relate to the term 'inspiration porn' - it’s when we’re hailed as being inspirational, incredible, without anything material to back it up. Living with a disability in itself isn’t inspirational; we’re just like everyone else living their lives. To call us inspirational infantilises disabled people, taking our existence away from society and moulding it into something that should be treated as fragile, or special.
If you’re going to call Hugo inspirational – or any disabled person, for that matter – it should be backed up with a reason why. Not just because they exist. In Hugo’s case, I’m pretty impressed he’s played cricket for England’s Physical Disability Team (and that he enjoyed that ear sucking).
It’s been bandied about that Hugo is the first disabled contestant on Love Island, but the thing is, that’s not strictly true. Remember Niall Aslam from 2018’s series? Niall left the show under slightly mysterious circumstances, with false rumours from family problems to drugs circulating on social media.
The truth of it was that Niall has autism. 'I was diagnosed aged 10,' he later stated in an Instagram video, going on to explain that he ended up in London’s Nightingale Hospital with stress-induced psychosis once he left the show.
According to the National Autistic Society, autism is defined as a lifelong development disability which affects how people interact with and communicate with the world. Sadly, when Niall was on the show, his autism wasn’t discussed. It’s disappointing for me that, for a show with millions of young and often impressionable viewers every night, Niall’s disability wasn’t embraced and used to create conversation and awareness.
Charli Clements, 20, who has autism herself, believes it's important we don't erase Niall and his disability from the show’s history: 'It’s upsetting that Niall’s condition is being erased through headlines about Hugo being the "first disabled Islander." ITV needs to recognise neurodivergence and other hidden conditions when discussing disability, making sure we don't just become inspiration porn.'
Hugo’s entry to the show not only throws up questions about why it’s taken so long for a contestant with a physical disability to feature, when there are quite literally hundreds of thousands of people across the UK with one - but also, why the show isn’t accessible to any potential wheelchair users.
I have experienced people kneeling down to chat to me. I’ve literally been patted on the head. Life as a wheelchair user has been challenging, and TV across the board - which could normalise my experience to the masses - has been far from quick to catch up. From some shows failing to hire disabled actors in disabled roles, to Love Island’s snug being evidently not-wheelchair accessible, TV doesn’t represent real life for so many.
What could Love Island do next?
Love Island could have been a huge platform to show the everyday struggles and triumphs of what wheelchair life is like, but so far it’s fallen short. In conversation with The Mirror in 2019, ITV bosses said making the villa wheelchair accessible wasn’t possible due to "insurance costs and budget constraints." Considering the mega bucks the show rakes in in advertising revenue every year, I find this a disappointing answer.
That’s the truth of the past, and now we have to look on the bright side: Hugo’s inclusion to the show is a step in the right direction. Disability and dating has always been such a taboo, with shows like The Undateables only aiding the idea that we’re 'other' in our nature. Hopefully, the nation seeing Hugo woo some lucky ladies throughout the series will open up the conversation, and will make people realise that dating someone who is disabled is nothing to be afraid of.
'I’d love for Hugo and the other contestants to be given the chance to have open and honest conversations about the everyday experiences of disabled people,' says Paralympic gold medallist Liz Johnson, who is hopeful for what this series has to offer. 'We’ve all seen headlines about care home fiascos and shortages of PPE over the past year, but so many of the disabled community's daily struggles remain unknown.
Love Island is a brilliant platform to start discussing the realities of disability more openly. In order for this to happen, I hope the producers and editors create safe spaces and opportunities for all contestants to be seen and heard - and don't manipulate or brush over important messages.'
As we look forward to future series, I’m hopeful that ITV will use the inevitable success of this year’s Love Island to improve the diversity even further for their villa entrants to come. And if they need a hand in casting, all they need to do is check out some of the absolute stunners in the UK Paralympic teams, because I can guarantee they’ll be keen to snap up their toned bodies quicker than anyone can say, 'I’ve got a text!'
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