Television needs to nurture its disabled talent

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The television industry is a fast-paced, fickle and challenging career path but one that is also incredibly rewarding and exciting.

For many taking your first steps and securing your first freelance jobs as a runner can at first seem like an insurmountable task but often through hard work and perseverance it can pay off.

However, for many disabled workers in the industry these entry level roles can serve as a barrier rather than providing them with their first opportunity.

Representation of disability in television has been an ongoing issue with data from the Diamond Report showing that disabled talent is the most under represented group in all of television.

The Diamond Report is used by the Creative Diversity Network which is a well respected and authoritative figure in the industry measures diversity across all UK broadcasters .

The latest findings from the fifth cut of the report  have shown that representation for disabled people remains low across the industry.

The report has shown that 6% of on-screen contributions and 8.3% of off-screen contributions were made by disabled individuals.

These figures are relatively poor when compared to the 18% of disabled people who make up the national population of the UK.

In 2018 the creative diversity network introduced Doubling Disability, a campaign with the aim of doubling the percentage of disabled people working off screen in television.

An interim report was published in 2021 with the rate of progress showing that it would be 2028 before the target of doubling the percentage was reached, and another two decades before a target of 20% is reached.

“I think it’s all about risk” Says Charlie Pheby, admin of the Facebook group Deaf and Disabled People in TV   “Often employers will see hiring a disabled person as a risk. That’s the issue and that’s what we need to change.”

The latest Diamond report was damning for the tv industry. Credit: Unsplash

The Facebook group which was founded four years ago exists to provide a shared spaced for Disabled talent in television says Charlie:  “We wanted somewhere where deaf and disabled people could come together and talk about their experiences, talk about problems they were facing, and really ask for advice. That’s what we’ve moved into.

“So when a job post goes up, and someone’s not sure if they’re right for it, they will ask the group and then the group will have that communication.”

Harry McDowell, a member of the Facebook group, is a television graduate and was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, classed as an invisible illness, when he was seventeen .

Living with an invisible illness means that a person can look perfectly healthy on the outside to family and friends but can suffer from chronic symptoms like fatigue and chronic pain.

Growing up during an exciting time in television prompted Harry to pursue a career in the industry and has worked in entry level roles since graduating in August.

Going forward in the industry Harry wants to promote change adding that: “I think what’s important is to be an active supporter of people with disabilities. Even if it’s providing opportunities on set for people to check blood sugar levels and stand by their side and give them advice.

“Being a supportive co-worker is important to myself and would encourage others in the industry to be supportive and listen if people need to talk to you about that sort of thing.”

Research conducted by Kate Ansel, a disabled journalist and executive producer with over 20 years experience, found that many disabled workers struggle to secure these entry level jobs.

The results of her report which were based on responses from 86 disabled industry professionals across all levels showed that 80% of disabled people working in TV felt their disability had adversely affected their career and that 77% felt that their options were limited.

Disabled workers risk negative physical and mental health in unsuitable roles. Credit: Unsplash

The report found that many entry level applicants had stayed in a job which negatively impacted their physical and mental health to avoid negative consequences for their career.

Relocation is also a negative factor for those who can’t drive and or source suitable accommodation meaning they lose their support network.

In her concluding statements of the report Ansel said:  “What’s striking is the consistency of the experiences described and the simplicity of some of the solutions. It’s crucial that the industry acts upon what it is being told.”

A core function of Charlie’s Facebook group is to ensure people are in a job that is right for them and that opportunities are open to them. Charlie encourages discussion on the page saying:

“We want people to have that conversation, we want people to say, you know, I don’t drive because of a disabled person. Do you think I can apply for this? And you know, is actually those questions as well as helped us sort of challenge the industry a little bit.

“we go back to the person who has the job and say, Actually, do you need a runner who can drive? Or is that just a leftover because it’s so standard.”

Across all genres of television in the UK there is higher representation on-screen than there is off. Data from the Diamond Report shows that disabled on-screen representation is highest in children’s programme and makes up 11.9% of contributions.

Disabled people were also  more strongly represented in the more senior role of series producer making up 13.3% of contributions.

This is a small victory however for a group that is continuously marginalised and under represented in the industry and more work desperately needs to be done.

 

 

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