TWO Barnsley schoolchildren are overcoming prejudices about their disabilities to star in a new Channel Five show.
Isabella-Mai Jones, nine, and Sonny Lalo Shaw, 11, make up two of the three leading roles in the stop-motion show Mixmups, which is developed by disability representation activists Toylikeme.
The show, which is currently available on My5, is a monumental step forward in representing disabilities in children’s programming, as it features a cast of characters each with their own impairments.
Cudworth Churchfield Primary School pupil Isabella-Mai, who has autism, plays wheelchair user character Giggle, while double amputee Sonny who attends Kirk Balk Academy in Hoyland plays Spin.
Isabella-Mai’s mother, Cheryl McMullan, said: “She’s been attending the Pauline Quirke Academy since she was four. Back then she was obsessed with Peppa Pig and has always really wanted to do something like it.
“We were at a sensory group last November when Toylikeme put up a post for a disabled actor to be in their new animated show – it seemed perfect so we sent in an application.”
While founder of Toylikeme, Rebecca Atkinson, was quick to get in touch with the family, the casting process took a while, causing Cheryl to have many conversations with Isabella-Mai, ‘preparing her’ for if she didn’t get it.
Thankfully, the young girl’s dreams came true and she is now taking a leading role in an animated show, like she’s dreamed of since she was four.
“Her little cousin loves it,” Cheryl added. “Her school’s also been really supportive and showed it in class. It’s not only voice acting, she’s also getting to go behind the scenes to learn how it gets made.”
Sonny meanwhile had previous experience in television after starring in CBeebies’ JoJo and Gran Gran.
Through that, the young swimmer, model and actor – a collection of skills that dad Gareth thinks ‘puts me to shame’ – was recommended for Mixmups.
“He loves it,” said Gareth. “He’s naturally good with talking to adults as he’s had to do it since he was young when we were spending lots of time in hospital.
“On his first birthday he went through his second amputation, so he’s always had to communicate his emotions well – he actually said his first word when he was only nine months old.”
These communication skills have been vitally important for Sonny, who is constantly explaining to peers and adults that he has fibular hemimelia, a congenital condition that results in the shortening and bending of bones in the leg.
Due to this, Sonny had both legs amputated by the time he was one, and has used prosthetics his entire life.
“Lots of people don’t know about it, so the first time they see him it blows their mind. That can seem negative even if it’s not on purpose.
“People are still supercharged to think that they have to look or act a certain way – I hope more of these shows for kids will make it so they’re not as shocked by people like Sonny.”
Cheryl shared this sentiment, adding: “I feel like a project like this can help make others understand disabilities. It allows children to relate and shows what children can do even if they have physical or invisible disabilities. Isabella-Mai can now say she’s autistic and not be embarrassed or feel judged.”