“CBeebies Bedtime Story,” the popular BBC program featuring such celebrities as Tom Hardy, Orlando Bloom and Dolly Parton reading children’s books, will break new ground on Friday when actor-comedian Rob Delaney becomes the series’ first reader to use a form of sign language.
“Our family learned Makaton to be able to communicate with our son Henry, who couldn’t speak due to a tracheotomy,” the “Catastrophe” star said of the language that combines hand signs and spoken word, which he used for his “Bedtime Story” segment featuring the book “Ten in the Bed,” by Penny Dale.
Claire Taylor, the producer of “Bedtime Story,” sees the move as a teachable moment for children and their families.
“Our aim is to normalize special-needs children and the differences that exist between children,” said Taylor, who also produces CBeebies’s “Something Special,” a children’s television program that has been featuring Makaton for 15 years. “I hope that children watching this will realize that people communicate in different ways — it’s about making our audience more accepting.”
According to Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Foundation, an advocacy group for people with disabilities, inclusion is still a huge problem.
“We’re still living in a time when people with disabilities are segregated by education, housing, and the biggest one is employment, with 70 percent of people with disabilities in America unemployed,” Ruderman said. “So, I think it’s great that Delaney’s using his celebrity to elevate the issue. Especially by talking directly to children, because when you sensitize people at an early age it can have tremendous impact on society.”
While Ruderman argues that the film and television industry needs to do more to put people with disabilities front and center — especially when representing or dealing with issues that impact people with disabilities — he says the next best thing is to feature a family member.
“When people can speak from personal experience,” said Ruderman, “it can be extremely powerful.”
Delaney certainly fits the bill. His son, whose speech issue stemmed from a cancerous brain tumor, died of the disease in January at the age of 2.
“We’re sad Henry isn’t here to see it,” the actor said of his “Bedtime Story” segment, which airs Friday at 6:50 p.m. London time, “but we’re happy other families will get to enjoy a story told in Makaton.”
According to CBeebies producer Taylor, creating the segment was a solemn experience for all involved.
“It was the most emotional, heartfelt ‘Bedtime Story’ shoot we’ve ever done,” said Taylor. “The whole crew felt it — deep breaths were had by us all.”
Before the segment even aired, social media was also feeling moved, with the @CbeebiesHQ Twitter post on Delaney’s reading inundated with myriad “I’m not crying” GIFs.
Jordan Heller is a journalist based in Northeast Ohio. Find him on Twitter @jordhell.