Image: Where have all the disabled people gone? panel hosted by the Royal Television Society. Deborah Williams, Adam Hills, Rosie Jones, Shannon Murray and Ade Adepitan (left-to-right). Photo credit: Paul Hampartsoumian.
A major panel discussion on the portrayal and inclusion of people with disabilities on British TV was hosted by the Royal Television Society this month.
Titled Where have all the disabled people gone? the panel was hosted by wheelchair-using presenter Ade Adepitan.
Other panellists (who all have disabilities) included Australian comedian Adam Hills, Deborah Williams, CEO of the Creative Diversity Network, Shannon Murray, actress, writer and broadcaster and Rosie Jones, researcher and comedian.
A report and highlights video of the panel showed that the issues were about both the lack of opportunities for disabled people working in television, and stereotyping of disabled roles.
Adam Hills said that his experience of seeing a disabled person on television had a very personal impact.
“Not great there’s disabled people on television… not pushing the boundaries of social awareness… quite selfish really… oh he’s like me… that has a profound effect.”
Deborah Williams, on the other hand, said that there were no role models for her as she was growing up and that television has a role in portraying the variety of people in the world.
“I have never seen a black, disabled woman, slightly overweight, with no left hand on television,” she said.
The Channel 4 initiative: 2016 Year of Disability was seen as having an impact, but Rosie Jones commented that it was “moving in the right direction, just very slowly.”
The panel agreed that the opportunities for disabled actors in TV drama and comedy were limited, and typecast as being only for roles playing disabled characters. A longer-term solution was to push for the promotion of people with disabilities into decision making positions.
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.
An opinion piece from Attitude Foundation CEO Alex Varley on why making a television series is a good strategy for changing mainstream attitudes towards people with disabilities.