The BBC commits to improving representation and access for disabled people on and off screen

The BBC have issued a new set of commitments to improve the representation and access for disabled people on and off screen.

The announcement comes weeks after a report highlighted the under-representation of disabled actors in the media. The Diversity in the UK study by streaming advice service WatchTVAbroad.com, stated that many of the most popular shows including Eastenders, Peaky Blinders and Coronation Street reflect diversity in terms of ethnicity, gender and sexuality, but fall short when it comes to portraying disabled characters. A study revealed that an average of 1.6% of the characters had a disability, compared with 21.7% of the UK population.

The commitments will be an extension to work already taking place within the corporation and follows the launch of The TV Access Project (TAP), created by the BBC, in collaboration with Channel 4, Britbox International, Disney+ UK, ITV, Paramount, Prime Video, Sky and UKTV, and the BBC Elevate scheme, which is helping to progress the careers of disabled talent within production companies, with tailored training, coaching and mentoring.

Also recently launched, coinciding with the UN International Day of Disabled Persons on Saturday 3rd December, is a dedicated collection called Count Us on BBC iPlayer, which celebrates disabled programming and talent.

Charlotte Moore, BBC Chief Content Officer, says: “It is vital that we continue to improve access to meaningfully increase the representation of disabled people on and off screen across the whole industry. These new BBC access commitments will drive authentic and inclusive portrayal even further across our content and ensure that the very best disabled talent feel heard and valued.”

Part of the commitment is to include authentic and meaningful representation of disability in all new commissions for scripted shows, by casting those with lived experience of disability for disabled roles, as well as seeking disabled actors for roles not specifically written to be disabled, to ensure programmes are truly representative of their viewers.

And with other programmes, portrayal of disability will include ‘landmark and incidental portrayal’, where they endeavour to include at least one contributor, presenter or performer with a disability per series and in one-off programmes.

Each BBC production will also work in the 5 As, Anticipate, Ask, Assess, Adjust, & Advocate, to support the hughest accessibility standards.

Joanna Abeyie, BBC Head of Creative Diversity, says: “The BBC is committed to building an accessible and welcoming culture for disabled talent, both on and off screen, as part of our plans to ensure we truly reflect disabled audiences. There is more to do across the whole industry and I’m excited to see how these new access commitments remove barriers and create better workplaces that make the TV industry more accessible to all who want to be a part of it”

Finally, the BBC is also launching a new scheme – Access First Titles – that will see programmes work with the BBC’s Creative Diversity Team and Access Co-ordinators to bring disabled talent onto their production teams to improve the diversity of off-screen talent, widen opportunities and change the make-up of broadcasting’s senior decision makers, a move which is essential if broadcasting is to become a genuinely inclusive industry.

BBC Director-General Tim Davie recently stressed the importance of organisational change, commenting at the recent Channel 4 Inclusion Festival – Altogether Different:

“Diversity is an absolute priority for the BBC. We have plans in place to reshape our organisation to ensure we truly reflect the public we serve – both on and off screen. The BBC is playing a leading role – stepping up our commitment to rapidly increase diverse representation at senior levels as well as our £112m Creative Diversity Commitment – the biggest financial investment to on-air inclusion in the industry. We are working hard to deliver change”

The first titles will be Silent Witness, made by BBC Studios, and The Apprentice, a co-production from Naked (a Fremantle label) and MGM UK. Both programmes will go into production early next year.

The see the access commitments in full, click here.