Every contestant on Love Island has their critics – I’d expect nothing less from an ITV2 dating show which thrives off drama – but the abuse aimed at deaf islander Tasha Ghouri is ableist, vitriolic and must be called out.
As the 23-year-old model and dancer continues to explore a relationship with Andrew, viewers have offered some advice to the real estate agent.
“It would be perfect if Andrew just pulls out her hearing aids and slide tackles her into the pool until she drowns,” tweeted one individual. Others said they’d rip off Tasha’s cochlear implant if they were in the villa, and another asked for “odds” on Andrew taking out the device at some point.
This vile ableism comes despite Tasha’s family and friends pleading with fans of the show to stop. “We understand everybody has opinions both negative and positive,” they wrote on Saturday, “but please could we avoid making fun of her superpower”. The word “superpower” being the one which Tasha uses to describe her deafness and her wearing of a cochlear implant.
The confidence which enables members of the public to proudly proclaim that they would damage someone’s assistive equipment – technology which, I hasten to add, isn’t exactly the cheapest thing on the market – should trouble us all.
This is far from a new phenomenon, either. Data from last October – collected and analysed by disability charities Leonard Cheshire and United Response – found that online disability hate crime in England and Wales surged by 52 per cent in 2020/21.
Forcibly removing someone’s cochlear implant or hearing aid will most definitely cause harm and pain, meaning these tweets are violent threats which amount to disability hate crimes.
The fact these comments are being liked and retweeted far more than they are being condemned or taken down not only shows just how dire disability awareness is in mainstream society, but just how little platforms such as Twitter appear to care about online ableism.
Can we no longer criticise an individual for their behaviour without attacking their disability? It certainly seems that way, with the taboo around disability preventing a simple conversation and instead encouraging threats of violence.
Some have argued that Tasha’s deafness enables her to get away with supposedly “questionable” things in the villa, but deaf people can be held accountable for their actions just like anybody else – our deafness plays no part in that.
You may well wonder if an anonymous comment from a viewer with a Cristiano Ronaldo profile picture is really something to get upset about, but a threat of violence against one deaf or disabled person is a threat against us all.
Not least because social media is a lifeline for many disabled people. It connects us to our community, and for those of us unable to venture outside our homes, it could well be our only way to combat isolation. Online threats against deaf and disabled people only jeopardise this safe haven for those who desperately need it.
I know, because it’s happened to me, too. A tweet of mine criticising the musician Sia and her 2021 film Music – in which a non-autistic actor plays an autistic person – was soon piled on by her fans, who tweeted a load of ableist and homophobic pleasantries in return. I was also impersonated – a threat many disabled activists regularly face online.
The abuse was exhausting, and in Tasha’s case, when aftercare for Love Island contestants hasn’t exactly been perfect in recent years, I dread to think about the mental impact coming out of the villa to violent threats could have on her.
Contrast the overwhelmingly positive response to Strictly star Rose Ayling-Ellis with the abuse aimed at Tasha. Hearing people are deciding when deafness is something to celebrate or a stick with which to beat us. It’s sickening.
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We’re already seeing non-disabled people with the gall to touch disabled people and their equipment without consent. Blind activist Dr Amy Kavanagh calls out sighted people touching her to guide her, without asking for permission first, through the hashtag #JustAskDontGrab. Meanwhile, wheelchair users are slamming individuals who touch their wheels, as to many, it is an extension of who they are.
To put it another way: a hearing person removing a deaf person’s cochlear implant without consent is entirely possible. We’re already seeing similar abuse taking place right now in the wider disability community.
The psychological impact of ableism is devastating. Love Island viewers must call out this violence when they see it.
If the producers of the series really want to demonstrate a commitment to contestant aftercare and disability representation, and ensure a positive future for the show, then they too should condemn the online abuse directed at Tasha – in the strongest possible terms, and without delay.