THERE’S not a helluva lot to celebrate in the big bad world these days. Unless your idea of fun is political anarchy, financial terror, war and extremism, you’re kind of stuck for simple pleasures.

The Mackay household stumbled on a little moment of positivity recently, however – something to make you realise humanity isn’t all bad; that although so much of modern life is thoroughly rotten, there’s good out there too. Though, isn’t it humanity’s curse to always keep our eyes down, and seldom look up; to fixate on the cruel and mean, not the decent and kind?

We rarely recognise it, but there is, indeed, much decency and warmth out there, yet so many of us sneer at any celebration of goodness. There’s a splinter of ice in too many hearts. But I’m not here to proselytise about the melting of cold hearts – they can melt themselves. I want to celebrate a simple, good change that’s taken place in our society.

That little moment of positivity my family stumbled upon was the BBC series Ralph & Katie, about a married couple with Down's Syndrome. Two generations of us watched it – my wife and I, both early 50s, and our daughters, both early 20s. Now, I can be soppy. Titanic turns my eyeballs into Niagara Falls. Happy things make me cry too. I cried so much at Mamma Mia 2 – yes, Mamma Mia 2 – I thought I was going to pass out.

So Ralph & Katie was pitched right at my emotion glands. If anything would set me off, it was this. And it did get me emotional. But not because of what was happening on screen. Yes, there’s moments of sadness and happiness and good folk struggling to do their best and keep smiling. But that wasn’t what got me. What got me, was "us". You, me, and the rest of the society. It felt like I was watching a drama that said something good about "us" for once – because we’ve all changed the world for the better.

Our daughters liked the drama, and loved that two folk with Down's Syndrome were stars, but it didn’t strike them as culturally or socially "significant", the way it did me and my wife. That it’s just another show for my daughters is important: they’ve grown up in a world where people with disabilities are present, where their lives matter, where they’re as celebrated as folk without disabilities.

My generation grew up in a very different world. In my hometown, there were few disabled people. I remember only two folk with Down’s Syndrome. They were pretty much shunned. At best, patronised; at worst – well, you don’t really want to remember the worst, do you? Suffice to say, in 2010, Frankie Boyle was still happily making jokes about Katie Price’s son, who’s disabled, raping her. Ricky Gervais parlayed a career from Down’s Syndrome slurs.

But then, back in the 1970s, when those two folk with Down's Syndrome in my hometown seemed to live such isolated lives, the word Gervais once threw around, like confetti at a wedding, was everywhere.

In my hometown, there stood a huge, grim hospital, set up as a “colony” – that’s the very word once used – for folk with learning disabilities. That hospital, and others like it, was why kids like me saw very few folk with Down's Syndrome: so many were locked away. I often wonder if it was the horror of discovering that children with disabilities were treated little better than animals in Romanian orphanages after the fall of communism which set us on a better path. It held a mirror up to our own mistreatment of people with disabilities, making us think again.

Not too long ago, I met Jamie and Victoria McCallum, prominent advocates for folk with Down’s Syndrome, and their delightful daughter Rosie, who has Down’s Syndrome. Rosie brings them such joy that – again, for me – it’s hard not getting emotional. I don’t want to imagine what their lives would’ve been like in the 1970s.

In two generations, we’ve gone from banishing folk with Down’s Syndrome, or worse, to Ralph & Katie, and Rosie. Clearly, Ralph & Katie didn’t spring from nowhere. Society has built towards this. Ralph & Katie is a spin-off from The A Word, a drama about autism. The Special Olympics and Paralympics have been going for years, and there’s legends like the comedian Rosie Jones, who has cerebral palsy, headlining on shows like the new Friday Night Live. But Ralph & Katie feels important. It’s a family drama on BBC1 at 9pm that’s about one thing: the love between two people with Down’s Syndrome.

This change in attitude towards people with disabilities is one of the few things my generation can be proud of – though, obviously, it’s got very little to do with people like me, and everything to do with people with disabilities who fought like hell to make society a better place.

That fight – that success, that change – is why my kids delighted in two actors with Down’s Syndrome starring in their own series, without seeing it as "significant". I remember a similar experience when my daughters were at school and told me their friend had come out as gay. My immediate reaction was "are they ok, have they been bullied, hit?" – because coming out as gay when I was a teenager was unthinkable. "No," they said, "they’re fine. Everyone loves them."

‘Good for you, kids,’ I thought, ‘thank God, you’re doing it differently’. Acceptance is where change starts.

Now, none of this means all’s well when it comes to the lives of people with disabilities. Far from it. Who suffered most through austerity? Who’s living in deepest poverty? Who experiences hate crimes, humiliation in the benefits system, discrimination at work? People with disabilities.

When it comes to true equality, there is, as the poet Robert Frost said, miles to go before we can sleep. But the fact we’re now watching Leon Harrop and Sarah Gordy star as Ralph & Katie is such a giant leap since my childhood. We’ve come a long way. There’s still far to go, but my god, it makes your heart sing to know the journey is getting somewhere.

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