Image: Nancy Doyle, from the BBC's Employable Me series
We might think that most of the employment challenges faced by disabled job seekers are related to access to buildings, facilities, equipment and other physical barriers. A new Australian TV series will follow a group of disabled people as they confront attitudinal barriers to finding work.
The ABC recently announced it was partnering with Screen Australia and the NSW government to fund an Australian-made version of the BBC series, Employable Me. Screening in 2018, this series will bring to the screen a range of stories of people with disabilities such as autism, Asperger’s syndrome and Tourette ’s syndrome (also known as “neurodiverse” people), as they tackle the challenges of finding work.
The original UK series of Employable Me documented the challenges and triumphs of a group of job seekers, as they navigated the employment landscape with a range of neurological conditions. The film makers’ aim was to prove to the world that their disability should not necessarily make them unemployable.
In fact, quite the opposite. Advocacy group Autism Awareness Australia hopes that the series will show that having a neurological condition has the potential to be a strength in the workplace, and with the right support and understanding, these job seekers can be matched to the right role, and also obtain fulfilling work.
ABC Managing Director, Michelle Guthrie said: “The ABC is committed to telling significant stories of diversity and inclusion that can make a positive change to the lives of Australians – especially those who are disadvantaged. Employable Me will be another example of distinctive content delivered by the ABC that encourages a national debate about this important topic.”
We know from Screen Australia’s 2016 report into screen diversity that portrayal of people with disabilities on Australian TV is very low, Although people with disabilities comprise approximately 18% of the Australian population, we just don’t see them on our TV screens, with just 4% of screen characters having a disability.
Equally rare is the inclusion of people with disability in documentaries and entertainment programs. However, there are some notable recent examples of disability portrayal on Australian screens, such as You Can’t Ask That and Undressed.
The Employable Me series is a positive step towards addressing this gap, particularly as it will focus on so-called “invisible” disabilities that are much more common than the usual stereotypical disabilities that are usually portrayed on our screens.
A pilot of the series was screened on the ABC in 2016.