Creative Diversity Network (CDN) has published a landmark new report on the representation of disabled people on and off screen, which reveals that at the current rate of progress it will take until 2041 for disabled people to be properly represented in the UK television industry.

Diamond at 5: A deep dive into the representation of disabled people in UK television is the most comprehensive analysis so far of how disabled people are faring, drawing on five years of data (August 2016-July2021) and 2.7m contributions to programming commissioned by the UK’s main broadcasters. The report also contains a set of key recommendations for the industry.

The report reveals that where there have been some small increases in the proportion of contributions being made by disabled people, these are limited to a few areas of production. Off-screen, these are in non-senior roles and principally in Children’s and Factual programmes. In all other genres, representation is static or has been in decline.

On-screen, there has been an increase in contributions across Drama, Comedy and Children’s programmes, although representation is still very low in Drama and Comedy. Elsewhere, in non-scripted roles, levels of representation have remained low over the last few years or decreased. The exception is in the role of Presenter/Reporter where 16% of contributions are made by disabled people, in line with workforce estimates (17%).

The report reveals that while the number of contributions by disabled people in on-screen scripted roles has been increasing, this improvement appears to be due to existing talent being given more opportunities and exposure than before, rather than new disabled people joining the industry.

Disabled people are less likely to be making contributions in senior roles, and even in those senior roles where there are higher numbers of disabled people employed, they are making fewer contributions than non-disabled colleagues. Overall, the percentage of contributions made by disabled people in senior roles has been in decline.

Over the past few years, children’s programmes have been leading the way with year-on-year growth in the representation of disabled people on screen. This is a particularly impressive achievement for a genre that casts a higher proportion of young people on-screen, because rates of disability increase with age. Only around 6% of children are disabled, whereas about 16% of working age adults are disabled.

CDN’s first annual Diamond report identified that 4.5% of people working off-screen and 6.8% of people on-screen were disabled and set a target of doubling the number of disabled people employed off-screen from 4.5% to 9%. Five years on, today’s analysis reveals that in order to reflect the UK workforce (17%) and population (18%) more than 13,000 additional disabled people need to enter and be retained in the industry on and off-screen.

Comparing broadcasters, the highest proportion of contributions by disabled people have been in BBC programmes (7.3% in 2020-21) and Channel 4 programmes (6.2% in 2020-21). The BBC has seen the greatest rate of growth from 4.9% of contributions in 2018-19 to 7.3% in 2020-21.  There is a slight reduction in contributions to Channel 4 programmes year-on-year. ITV and Sky have the smallest proportion of contributions by disabled people, although both broadcasters have seen recent growth in off-screen representation from 3.1% in 2018-19 to 4.5% in 2020-21 for ITV, and from 2.8% to 3.4% for Sky. The picture is more mixed at Paramount (formerly ViacomCBS) where off-screen representation has fluctuated between 4.4% and 6%.

Meeting access requirements and making reasonable adjustments is a legal requirement, yet it is still not standard practice within the industry to plan for, fund and accommodate these.

Deborah Williams, CEO, CDN said: “Our analysis clearly reveals just how much disability, and disabled-led organisations and individuals have been excluded from the diversity conversation in the UK television industry, and how this has contributed to a lack of understanding of how disabled people’s lives are interlinked to their representation in television.”

“But all is not lost. 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.”

The report’s key recommendations:

  • 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.

 

Tim Davie, BBC Director General, said: “The BBC is committed to nurturing disabled storytelling and we’re improving how we reflect disabled audiences. Project Diamond helps the industry work to common goals and figures show the BBC is getting better on disability representation, but there is still more to do. Last week we launched vital new commitments to help remove barriers, create better workplaces and increase authentic and meaningful portrayal in our programmes.”

Alex Mahon, Chief Executive, Channel 4 said: “Channel 4 is committed to supporting disabled talent and driving positive change in our industry. We have made good progress this year having introduced new Commissioning Diversity Guidelines which mandate the inclusion of disabled production talent, and our Disability Code of Portrayal sets out our commitment to change both the quality and quantity of disabled representation on screen. The industry still has a long way to go but we remain focused on achieving equitable experiences both on and off screen for all under represented talent.”

Carolyn McCall, CEO, ITV said: “We are all clear that there is a lack of representation of d/Deaf, disabled and neurodiverse talent in our industry. We are tackling this through a number of initiatives at ITV, such as Step up 60, our Disabled Writers in Development initiative, and specific leadership programmes internally. We are also educating our teams and colleagues across the business about disability through our mandatory Disability Inclusion training. We are collaborating with other Broadcasters and streamers through the TV Access Project and this is already producing results such as the 5 A’s which are a set of guidelines for producers to embed accessibility and inclusion of Disabled freelancers into their teams and productions. The combination of all of this must accelerate the progression of d/Deaf, disabled and neurodiverse representation both in ITV and the wider industry.”

John McVay, CEO, Pact said: “Pact welcomes CDN’s disability representation report and fully supports the recommendations it makes to improve representation across the industry. Pact has developed a range of resources and tools to help production companies to attract and retain disabled talent and will continue to work with its members and the wider industry in ensuring disabled people are properly represented in the UK television industry.”

Maria Kyriacou, President, Australia, UK and Israel at Paramount said: “This is a vital report from CDN that shows we have not moved fast enough as an industry to improve representation of disabled people – both on-screen and within our workforce.  At Paramount improving access for disabled people in our workforce and in our content is a priority for us and that’s why we appointed a Disability Advisor to deliver training to the business and to begin to develop a Disability Action Plan. Together with industry partners, we also remain committed to rolling out disability passports and participating in the TV Access Project. To support our on-screen efforts, we are continuing to develop our No Diversity, No Commission initiative to make it fully inclusive. We must accelerate this work and collaborate across our industry to address the access barriers disabled people continue to face.”

Stephen van Rooyen, Chief Executive Officer and EVP, UK & Europe, Sky said: “The data collected by CDN is essential to support and encourage change in the TV industry and we will study the report’s finding closely. At Sky, we know that we have a critical role to play in driving change so that disabled people are better represented on and off the screen. We have appointed a Diversity Advisory Council to advise us on how we can best deliver real and lasting change across our business operations, and we’re an Iconic Leader amongst the Valuable 500, committed to disability inclusion. This year we also appointed our first Head of Inclusion for Content, with responsibility for the inclusion and accessibility initiatives across all Sky Originals, including production and commissioning.”

Richard Watsham, Chief Creative Officer, UKTV and Global Director of Acquisitions, BBC Studios/UKTV, said: “Although there has been some small progress, it’s clear we need to get better at putting individuals at the heart of our strategy. That means understanding the different needs of our disabled colleagues at all levels of the industry and tailoring our approaches to empower them. As an industry we need to attract new talent, promote junior staff, retain people mid-career and fill our senior roles with truly diverse decision makers. There is so much to do and 2041 is not an acceptable target for proper representation, so we must keep developing the cross-industry collaboration that has created small green shoots and use that to dramatically accelerate change.”

Jon Creamer

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