BBC announces major commitment to boosting disability representation on and off screen in 2020

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The BBC has unveiled a three-part plan designed to significantly improve representation of – and opportunities for – disabled people on- and off-air. The measures will see more disabled people working on some of the BBC’s biggest programmes, and help disabled staff move around and up the BBC more easily.

A TV family of four, with a learning disabled daughter

There She Goes series 2 (C) Merman Productions – Photographer: Colin Hutton

The plan’s three elements are:

  • Launching BBC Elevate, an initiative to give disabled people with some industry experience the chance to work and gain further experience on flagship BBC shows including The Apprentice, EastEnders, Holby, Call the Midwife, The One Show, Who Do You Think You Are?, Ready Steady Cook and Pointless.
  • Aiming to permanently shift the dial on what audiences can expect in terms of authentic and distinctive disabled representation on-screen with a range of new programmes as well as enhanced portrayal in existing programmes and core brands.
  • Introducing a ‘BBC passport’ for disabled staff. which records their needs and helps ensure they get the right support and can move smoothly between different jobs.
Mat Fraser portrait

Mat Fraser will curate a series of Monologues exploring disabled experience

The work follows a major report carried out last year involving hundreds of staff which made recommendations on how the BBC can go further to ensure staff can progress at the corporation.

New programmes unveiled today include BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner confronting the challenges of suddenly becoming disabled; comedian and presenter Alex Brooker exploring what disability means to him; captivating new drama, But When we Dance about two people who both have Parkinson’s and share a love of dance; actor Mat Fraser curating a series of ambitious and challenging monologues on the theme of disability; Richard Butchins exploring how visual impairments have contributed positively to the creation of art; and the return of acclaimed comedy series, Jerk.

Alison Kirkham, Controller Factual Commissioning, says:

“We want to set the bar forever higher, for the entire industry, both with off-screen talent and on-screen representation. In the past the industry hasn’t always done enough to offer opportunities for disabled people and so has missed out on their talent. With the launch of BBC Elevate we want to ensure the BBC leads the way in enabling disabled people in TV to progress. By working with some of the UK’s biggest shows we are giving applicants a chance to develop their careers and enabling our flagship brands to benefit from their experience and talent. I hope that the legacy of this initiative is sustained, enduring change which creates a greater pool of disabled people working across the industry complemented by a richer portrayal of the lives and stories of disabled people on screen.”

Allan MacKillop, the BBC’s Disability Lead, who has been developing the passport with support from the disability staff network, BBC Ability since he joined the BBC earlier this year, says:

“Introducing the passport is a major step forward in breaking down barriers and demonstrates both our commitment to career progression for disabled staff and to creating a more inclusive culture. And Elevate intends to make a tangible difference to the careers of many talented disabled people in TV who face some particular challenges with progression. We want to shift the dial for the longer term, and we are determined to replicate some of that across the industry.”

Clare Sumner, BBC’s Director of Policy and BBC’s Executive Sponsor of Culture and Career Progression for disabled colleagues says:

“Today’s announcements show that the BBC is committed to making sure disability issues are recognised on and off screen. I am pleased that we will be offering disabled staff the use of the passport, which we know will make a real difference to individuals and play an important role in improving the culture at the BBC. Our ambition is that it will be embraced industry-wide through collaboration with our partners.”

The most recent Diamond figures show that of those who returned data, just 5% of off-screen talent across all broadcasters declared that they were disabled, compared with an estimated 19% of working-age adults in the UK. As part of its diversity and inclusion strategy, the BBC has committed to increasing the number of disabled people in its workforce from 8% in 2016 to 12% in 2020. Additionally, this initiative is part of the BBC’s commitment to the CDN’s Doubling Disability plan to double the number of disabled people working behind the camera in television by 2020.