Disability on TV - the UK experience

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Image: Amy Conachan, currently starring in UK series, Hollyoaks

Ordinarily media organisations compete with one another, but in Britain they are collaborating because of their shared belief that media should reflect the richness and diversity of society, and provide opportunities to everyone to participate.

 

The UK’s Creative Diversity Network has been championing increased diversity, including people with disabilities, on TV and other media since it was founded 5 years ago.

The network has 2 main aims:

1.       To bring together UK media organisations to promote and share diversity good practice; and

2.       Build the business case for wider representation and inclusion.

Its members include major UK TV broadcasters and media organisations, such as the BBC, ITV, Sky, Channel 4 and BAFTA.

In 2017, the network launched Diamond (Diversity Analysis Monitoring Data), a world first industry-wide diversity monitoring system which will collect data about diversity in UK media.

Diamond will provide insights into what’s happening on screen (“Who’s on TV?”) and what’s happening off screen (“Who makes TV?”).  The industry is committed to having regular and transparent data on how it is progressing against its objectives.  Diamond’s first report is expected later this year.

As the UK’s Rio Paralympics broadcaster, Channel 4 is a great example of the leadership in this area.  It has set its sights on being “the most creatively diverse broadcaster in Europe”.

In 2016 Channel 4 launched its ‘Year of Disability’, pledging through its 360⁰ Diversity Charter to showing diversity at every level, not just within the organisation, but also involving those who contribute to content.  Its recently published report highlights some of the individual success stories of the last few years.  For example, in 2016 it doubled the number of people with disabilities appearing in over 20 of its biggest programs.

And, importantly, representation isn’t always about superhuman achievement or being a victim of circumstance.

“It’s important for society in general to see a disabled person just living their life like they would normally,” says Amy Conachan, currently starring as a science teacher in the Channel 4 drama, Hollyoaks. 

“I’d like to play parts that are much more about the character, casting me as an actor rather than the fact I’m in a wheelchair, and this part is nothing to do with the fact I’m in a wheelchair.”

This sentiment is echoed by Ade Rawcliffe, Creative Diversity Manager at Channel 4, “We have a duty to reflect viewers’ lives, especially so in our mainstream programming.  It can transform attitudes to disability, it enriches our content and gives us a unique point of view.”

Part of Attitude Foundation’s mission is to increase the realistic depiction of people with disabilities in mainstream Australian television, away from the stereotypes of villains, victims or heroes. 

Whilst the Australian television industry does have guidelines on the portrayal of people with disabilities, industry initiatives such as the Creative Diversity Network could achieve more if adopted outside of the UK.

This article by Meg Dalling. Meg is seconded to the Foundation by Founding Sponsor ANZ as part of its ongoing support.

Related content

A report on the recent Royal Television Society’s event Where have all of the disabled people gone?

Suggestions on how mainstream television could be more inclusive of disability that could be implemented very easily, quickly and at little or no additional cost.


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