Silent Witness star creates guidelines to empower disabled creators

Photograph of Silent Witness' Liz Carr in wheelchair

Silent Witness star Liz Carr and former BBC channel executive Tanya Motie have designed a set of guidelines based on five principles known as ‘The Fundamentals’, aimed to empower disabled creatives.

The set of commitments are designed to be a resource for disabled creatives when negotiating contracts and intellectual property related deals and will serve as a guideline for production companies to help them to ensure the full and equal inclusion of Deaf, Disabled and/or Neurodivergent talent, both behind and in front of the camera.

Both Carr and Motie want disabled creators to adapt the clauses for their specific needs in order to give themselves more creative control over production and portrayal of their work.

Motie said: “Diversity needs to be embedded from the initial idea – the option agreement – not from the point of the pitch or the production,” she added. “The industry is ready to find and hear from disabled talent, but we need to close the loop and empower disabled people to go out and ask for what they need.”

Carr, who uses a wheelchair and plays the forensic examiner Clarissa Mullery on BBC1’s Silent Witness, has had an influential role in the scripting, casting and editing of the show, and believes the guidelines will also give other disabled creatives more power in the decision-making process of the shows they work on.

As well as helping to remove stereotypes about disabled relationships from the show script, she also ensured that a scene in which she enters her husband’s (played by Daniel Weyman) office through a revolving door was kept in the show.

Carr said: “You don’t really see wheelchair users going through revolving doors on TV. When I saw in the edit that it had been removed, I insisted it was important because it shows how much Clarissa knows that building, and how comfortable she is. It may not mean anything to anyone else, but for those of us who do it and don’t see ourselves represented, it mattered. Being involved in the decision-making was my education in how our involvement changes everything, and is much more than just having a few ramps on set,”

Sony Pictures television label Bad Wolf (Doctor Who, I Hate Suzie) and BBC Studios-owned Lookout Point (The Ballad of Renegade Nell, Happy Valley), have both adopted the guidelines for projects currently in the works, one starring Carr herself as a disabled female writer.

Carr said: “They are addressing things that haven’t been done so far around disability. Adapting a memoir by a disabled woman writer was something we really wanted to get behind, and to see a high-end ambitious drama with a disabled ensemble at its heart excites us.”

The Fundamentals initiative was inspired by work conducted by Motie and All3Media label Witchery, to ensure that Adrenalin, an early-stage adaptation of Dan Freedman book Unstoppable, was mindful of issues around class, race and regionality.

Motie said: “Class, race, and disability are really important issues, and the story must be authentic. Witchery were very happy for us to include some of The Fundamental’s clauses in the contract when it comes to class and race which make it very clear what we are all trying to achieve throughout the whole process.”

The Fundamentals: five point guidelines

1) Ensuring on and off-screen disabled talent are paid the same rate as non-disabled peers and renumerated for any disability consultancy

2) Ensuring meaningful consultation through development, pre-production, production, post-production, delivery and distribution/advertising

3) Identifying ways to develop and invest in disabled talent, giving them opportunities across development and production

4) Identifying and hiring key disabled production talent, and ensuring there is sufficient budget to create appropriate schedules and accessible locations for them

5) Employing an experienced access coordinator with lived-experience whose job is to meaningfully consult with disabled cast and crew about their needs ahead of them starting work

The Fundamentals have been used by BBC’s TV Access Project in developing the 5 As – the new industry standards for disability inclusion.

An excerpt from the Fundamentals guideline document states:

There are many important changes that are happening throughout the industry to bring disability into the centre ground. Those changes – driven by deaf, disabled and /or neurodivergent people – are having an impact. It’s important to capitalise on this momentum and look at every aspect of the industry to see where it can level-up to create lasting and sustainable change. We believe those at the starting line of the creative process are in a key position to ensure these wider industry changes are truly embedded.

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