One of the UK’s most-watched soaps is set to introduce the first mainstream deaf character in the show’s history.
Actress Rose Ayling-Ellis will make her debut on EastEnders as Frankie, the soap’s first mainstream deaf character, as Albert Square residents come to terms with a boat crash which killed long-time series regular Dennis Watts.
The episode, which aired on Friday (21 February), saw Ben, who is partially deaf, being pulled out of the River Thames looking disorientated.
Fans of the show will find out that Ben’s head injury has triggered his additional loss of hearing, leaving him to receive some unexpected help and support from Frankie.
The dramatic episode was part of the show’s 35th anniversary celebrations.
As the show’s first storyline featuring a mainstream deaf character, it will highlight some of the challenges deaf people go through everyday. Frankie will communicate with Ben using sign language, also a first for the BBC soap.
The introduction of Frankie is an important step towards greater awareness and inclusion of disabilities in the media.
It is thought that EastEnders writer Charlie Swinbourne, who is deaf, pitched the idea to show bosses, wanting to explore how losing more of his hearing affects Ben, as well as how it makes him see the world and his identity.
EastEnders bosses have reportedly worked with the National Deaf Children’s Society to ensure the storyline is portrayed in an accurate manner.
The introduction of Frankie has been welcomed by EastEnders fans, charities and the wider community.
Richard Kramer, Chief Executive of national disability charity, Sense, said: “We’re really pleased to see one of the nation’s favourite shows, EastEnders, introduce a new storyline exploring the experiences and challenges deaf people face.”
“We currently see far too little representation of disabled people and disability issues in the mainstream media,” adds Richard. “This is a huge amount of people who don’t see themselves, their stories or life experiences reflected in the shows they love.
“We hope that the move by the BBC will encourage other broadcasters and programmes to follow suit.”
It is thought that Rose’s character, Frankie, will be introduced to fans of the show as it airs this week on BBC One.