The UK TV industry needs to attract another 13,500 disabled people to be truly reflective of the workforce and population, according to a landmark disability in TV report issued today by diversity body Diamond .
Analyzing disability progress over the past five years, the report said the scale of growth required is "substantial and the key challenges are systemic and lie at industry level," especially behind the camera, in order to properly represent a minority that make up around one-fifth of the UK population.
Diamond's top line number crunching found 5.8% disability representation off-screen and 8% on-screen in 2020/21 – the most recent period for which data is available – which would need to see a rise of 13,519 people to match the general population.
Working with UK broadcasters, Diamond had initially been pushing for the industry to double its 4.5% off-screen disability representation by the end of 2021, but this 9% figure is now more likely to be achieved in around five years' time due to slow progress .
While disabled people are contributing more to TV shows – especially in scripted – the report posited that this tends to be due to existing talent being given more opportunities and exposure than before, rather than new disabled people joining the industry.
"The scale of the challenge is immense," added the report. "It can't be fixed by small-scale piecemeal activity. Transformative initiatives that focus on industry-wide change and which also support retention are critical."
Breaking down disability representation by broadcaster, the report raised concerns for Channel 4 – a network that has placed disability front-and-center of diversity policy in recent years.
Off-screen, Channel 4 disability representation has fallen by 1pp to 6.2% over the past three years, while on-screen it has remained virtually flat at 7.3%. The BBC , on the other hand, which last week unveiled plans to have a disabled person on every one of its non-scripted shows, has nearly doubled off-screen to 7.3%, although on-screen has fallen slightly to 8.9%.
Diamond stressed that improvements are "limited to a few areas of production," mostly in non-senior roles and principally in children's and factual programs.
Children's is a blueprint for other genres to follow, with off-screen rising by one-third to 6.6% over the past three years and on-screen hitting an impressive 11.9% last year – not too far off the overall proportion of the UK workforce.
The drama genre was criticized for "not only having the lowest proportion of off-screen contributions but having a proportion that has been in decline in recent years," sitting at a woeful 3.4% off-screen last year.
Creative Diversity Network CEO Deborah Williams, who oversees Diamond, said the data "reveals just how much disabled-led organisations and individuals have been excluded from the diversity conversation in the UK television industry."
But "all is not lost," she added, and at Edinburgh TV Festival BBC Chief Content Officer Charlotte Moore unveiled the TV Access Project, a flagship cross-industry initiative to rid the sector of appalling accessibility issues. Moore has been working with Help writer and disability campaigner Jack Thorne and his Underlying Health Condition lobby group on the push.
Williams added: "I fully believe that with the data and evidence we've gathered, which properly highlight the gaps, trends, and where progress is or isn't taking place, we can work collaboratively as producers, broadcasters, streamers, training providers, government and insurers to bring about the lasting and meaningful transformation in our industry to which we are all committed."
Diamond issued a string of recommendations, copied below, including for the industry to adopt a "social model of disability with a focus on building an inclusive commissioning process." It also pushed for better sharing of best practice between genres and for broadcasters and producers to co-operate more.
The recommendations in full
- The industry should follow the social model of disability, with a focus on building an inclusive commissioning process and working environment (physically and culturally) within which all talent can thrive.
- More effort needs to be made to increase representation in senior roles which is currently static at best or in decline at worst.
- Efforts should be made to share and learn from success in better performing genres.
- Access provision and reasonable adjustments are a legal requirement and should be standard cross the industry.
- The sector needs to focus on initiatives which transform sector policy and practice, and which are likely to be more far reaching .
- Broadcasters and producers need to work together to ensure that arrangements and resources for reasonable adjustment and access provision are planned in advance and automatically available.
- Every production should have a budget line to cover access provision, and easily accessed ringfenced funds available to cover access provision across productions.
- There should be an industry requirement for all studios and recording spaces to be fully accessible.
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