Channel 4 has announced a new plan to strengthen the portrayal of disabled people on television.

Channel 4’s ‘Disability Code of Portrayal’ sets out how it aims to deliver a change in both the quality and quantity of on screen representation of disabled people. The principles outline how it intends to dial up representation of disability across all its content.

Ally Castle, Channel 4’s Disability Consultant said: “We firmly believe that the commitments we are making today will take the inclusion of disabled people in our content to a different level, far beyond cliches, tropes and stereotypes.

“We will closely monitor the volume and types of disability portrayal in each programme via the standard commissioning paperwork, and I am particularly proud of the pledge to always have senior editorial disabled input in core disability programmes – whether on the production team, via a consultant or through Channel 4 expertise – ensuring that stories about disabled people are told by disabled people.”

The Code will provide a set of guidelines for both commissioners and programme makers. It covers a range of measures including an explicit commitment to seeking disabled actors for disabled roles in scripted content, and promises that disabled people will be shown as well-rounded  characters who are more than just their conditions or impairments.

Channel 4’s Chief Content Officer Ian Katz today said “After ten years of successful Paralympic coverage, it’s now time for a step change at Channel 4 across all our portfolio, in terms of both the quantity and quality of disability representation in our content.

“We have developed this Code of Portrayal to outline our clear commitments and give detailed steers as to how we go about delivering the original, nuanced and authentic portrayal of disabled people which our viewers – disabled and non-disabled – want, expect and deserve. This Code not only allows us to get into more engaging and knotty creative conversations around disability, it also gives us a framework for accountability – for our production partners and our commissioning editors.  It will ensure that they work with the best talent, on and offscreen, to allow us to deliver on it and make sure that we get to a higher standard of portrayal.”

Channel 4’s six portfolio-level commitments in its new Disability Code of Portrayal require commissioners to have a range of portrayal types in their content including incidental where the character “happens” to be disabled without it driving the story; integrated where disability is present and may be directly addressed if relevant; and core where disability is front and centre of the programme.

The programme-focused commitments include ensuring disabled people in Channel 4 content have their own voice and tell their own stories wherever possible. There will be sense-checking against ‘able gaze’ where assumptions and projections about the disabled experience are made by non-disabled people, and being disabled will be presented as a valid identity, rather than anything to be ashamed about or shocked by

In line with Channel 4’s recently refreshed Commissioning Diversity Guidelines there is an explicit commitment to seek disabled actors for disabled roles in scripted content.  Also, to ensure a volume of representation which will allow for the full spectrum of disabled experiences to be shown, every series from now on will be expected to have at least one disabled performer, contributor, guest or presenter, with the intention for more than one.

Pic: Ade Adepitan, presenter, Channel 4, Beijing Paralympics 2022

Jon Creamer

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