Ryan quashes disability prejudices on national television

VisAbility Youth Support Officer Ryan Honschooten has been tackling misconceptions and quashing disability prejudices on national television.

Ryan, who is totally blind, features in the ground-breaking television program ‘What Do Australians Really Think About Disability’.

It claims to capture shocking examples of prejudice, discrimination, and abuse through undercover and covert filming.

Ryan sits on a bench with his white cane
Ryan was keen to challenge prejudices on the SBS program

It will air on SBS Television on Wednesday, August 18th at 8:30 pm and will also be available on catch-up.

The program is hosted and narrated by Kurt Fearnley (link opens in new window), an Australian wheelchair racer, who has won gold medals at the Paralympic Games and ‘crawled’ the Kokoda Track. He has a congenital disorder called sacral agenesis.

A trailer for the program airing on SBS features Ryan two-thirds in:

We spoke to the production company, JoinedUp and Ryan himself to find out more about the program.

Why choose Ryan for this program?

JoinedUp: We reached out to a few disability support groups and asked for suggestions, and VisAbility gave us Ryan’s name. What impressed us most about Ryan is the breadth of his achievements.

It’s a major prime time series for SBS that features three subjects, disability, obesity, and the elderly. Documentaries such as this reach a broad and engaged audience, so we think they will get plenty of interest. Challenging prejudice and stigma is at the heart of this series.

Why did you value Ryan’s contribution?

JoinedUp: Ryan featured in an experiment. Members of the public were shown photos that featured people with a disability. We asked them to imagine what kind of life they led. The idea was to make people question their initial reactions and furthermore, ultimately change perceptions around disability and highlight disability prejudices.

Ryan was perfect because he is a very active individual with his competitive sailing and was happy to break down attitudes on disability.

Ryan, can you describe your experiences?

I loved being part of this program. I have no hesitation in challenging prejudice and stigmas, but it was confronting listening to people talk about me.

The filming took place in Fremantle. They showed three people a picture of me and then asked them what they thought about me, my hobbies, and where I might work. One of these people was an older man who said that he thought I worked in a call centre. There’s nothing wrong with anyone working in a call centre, but it’s a generalist, pre-conceived idea. It’s narrow minded of people to think that’s all people can do.

I had the opportunity to speak to him directly and ask him why he thought I would work in a call centre. He found that difficult to answer but it demonstrates the prejudice that still exists.

What else did you find annoying?  

I am sure I’ll speak for other people with a disability, but it is annoying when people say that I am amazing. People use this a lot – but why are we amazing? A female helicopter pilot mentioned that I was amazing, and I questioned why she used that word. I might be confident and active, but to call someone with a disability amazing is irritating.

There’s also this misconception that is evident in this program that we have heightened senses. That’s not true. We use our senses more, but they are not heightened.

Are you glad you took part?

Definitely. They filmed me as I listened to peoples’ responses so you witness my instant reaction in real time. I was more than happy to challenge disability prejudices.

I’d encourage people to watch it …and any television producers, if you’d like me to appear on your program, just speak to my agents at VisAbility.

The SBS program (link opens in new window) uses surveys undertaken by three universities to reveal where Australians stand on disability. It illustrates how stereotypes and misconceptions are still prevalent in Australian society.

Ryan Honschooten is our Youth Support Officer at VisAbility. If you’d like to find out more about our Children’s Services and the work we do, email our Client Experience Team on cetenquiries@visability.com.au