Coronation Street will launch a big new story for Izzy Armstrong next week, which it hopes will highlight the pressures faced by disabled workers during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Viewers have previously seen Underworld bosses Carla and Sarah Barlow arrange for wheelchair user Izzy to have a sewing machine at home, so she can continue to work whilst shielding.
But next week, Carla will become frustrated by what she believes is substandard work from her employee, and will insist to Sarah that unless Izzy returns to the factory, they will have to get rid of her.
For the first time since the pandemic, viewers will see Izzy at home, as she struggles to manage her workload whilst looking after her health.
The scenes have been filmed by actress Cherylee Houston and her partner Toby Hadoke — who has been cast as Izzy’s concerned neighbour, Fergus — in the couple’s real life home in Manchester.
“This reflects my own COVID experience as a disabled person, isolating and shielding,’ says Cherylee, 46, who has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a condition that affects the body’s connective tissues.
“I realised I was in a very safe place with ITV and very well looked after, but that wasn’t the same for most of my disabled peers who were in employment.
“I spoke to Debbie Oates, one of the writers, and she then spoke to Iain and Verity (MacLeod, Corrie’s producer and assistant producer) and the rest of the writing team, and they started to explore how they could tell this story, because it’s important to show how we’ve really been forgotten about.
“Disabled people make up 19% of the population, but there was no information about COVID in terms of disability and how it impacted on our lives.
“I was stunned to learn that 59% of people who died last year were disabled, yet where is the provision for us? Shielding officially finished in March, so it became the choice for a lot of people to get food and provide a roof over your head, and face that fear of dying.”
Coronation Street consulted a YouGov poll carried out for the TUC when working on the storyline, in which nearly one in three disabled workers said they were subjected to bullying and/or harassment, being ignored or excluded, singled out for criticism, or being monitored excessively at work, while shielding during the pandemic.
Adds Cherylee, “There’s 14.1 million disabled people in the UK. We are employees, carers, front line workers, volunteers, and a key part of every community.
“The pandemic has had an incredible impact on many disabled people due to social isolation, certain services being unavailable, and a lack of understanding."
Says Coronation Street boss Iain MacLeod: “We had to think outside the box in order to tell this story, devising new protocols and ways of scripting scenes that would allow Cherylee to film the scenes herself in her home. It certainly helped that her partner Toby is a fabulous actor!
“Despite all the technical challenges we had to overcome, this was a story that needed telling, and I hope it will resonate with millions of people who have found themselves in a similar position to Izzy — and perhaps open the eyes of millions of others who had little awareness of the issues facing disabled people during COVID.”
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