Image: The BBC hosts special events, such as a recruitment evening for technically talented disabled production staff.
The Attitude Foundation wants to see more disabled people on television. We are big fans of quotas, measuring the impact and ensuring that approaches are most than just tokenistic. How do you deliver that on a big television network ensuring that it isn’t just a one-off boost championed today and then left tomorrow? How do you ensure that disability isn’t in a competition for a small “other budget” and up against equally important issues around portrayal of cultural mix, gender and sexual preference?
BBC is best at practical diversity
A good starting point is to look at who the industry thinks is doing best. British television channel BBC 3 was recently awarded a Creative Diversity Network “Changemaker Award” as its Broadcaster of the Year, reflecting its commitment to greater diversity, including around disability.
BBC3 adheres to the BBC’s umbrella Diversity and Inclusion Commissioning Guidelines, which also include targets around disability inclusion. For example, its 2017 target for disability portrayal on screen is 5%, which will increase to 8% in 2020.
The magnificent seven
With all of that commitment to diversity, backed by practical real-world strategies there are at least 7 good reasons to love the BBC’s diversity approach:
1. Disability is part of the whole diversity strategy, not a separate initiative. The value of this is that are more resources dedicated overall, the diversity program gets more attention and has more impact. Also, there isn’t an unfair “competition” for different areas of diversity for basic funding.
2. There are measurable quotas for more than just the number of people with disabilities in programs. The program quotas are essential, but the BBC recognises that the same applies to off-screen production staff, management and senior commissioning roles.
3. It encourages the hiring of disabled actors for non-disabled parts (i.e. not just always playing the wheelchair woman). Presenters, like weather announcer Lucy Martin, also get opportunities.
4. The other people featuring in programs, like panels and studio audiences are also encouraged to reflect the local audience, including people with disability.
5. Behind the scenes is just as important as acting and presenting. Disability talent is encouraged for production, writing, editing and commissioning programs. They are also proactive about those opportunities, such as special events to meet and talk to potential technical talent with a disability.
6. It’s all backed by practical guidelines and procedures for BBC staff to follow, such as hiring processes, checklists for co-production arrangements and active reminders for situations such as picking an expert panel or filling out the studio audience.
7. Finally, a special Diversity and Inclusion Development Fund to help kick start projects, ideas and get them over the line.
Australia has barely started
In Australia we have guidelines around the portrayal of people with disability in news and current affairs (which we think is often not followed) and a new organisation Media Diversity Australia that is championing diversity (including disability). We also have a new initiative from NSW Screenability that is also focussing on production issues.
It’s a lowly start, but we could do so much more and call on Australian public broadcasters to adopt similar approaches as a first step to an industry-wide scheme.
A discussion piece on whether disabled actors should be employed to do disabled roles.
More about the industry-wide approach to disability inclusion and portrayal in the UK.
Attitude Foundation CEO, Alex Varley, outlines 6 ways that television in Australia could immediately be more inclusive of disability.