This week, we were happy to see Channel 4 launch its ‘Year of Disability’. Ahead of the Rio Paralympics later this year, the channel is committing to increasing representation of disabled people in the broadcasting industry. This is an exciting initiative that we hope will have a positive impact for all disabled people. 

As well as increasing visibility of disabled people on-screen, the initiative includes a £300,000 fund to foster new talent, some of which will be used to help support the careers of 20 disabled people working behind the camera in Channel 4’s biggest suppliers. The channel has also committed to ring-fencing 50% of its own apprenticeships and 30% of work experience places for disabled applicants.

We welcome this initiative as a progressive way to increase representation of disabled people in the media, as well as lower the disability employment gap. The media has a huge influence on the way disabled people are perceived and treated in public, and initiatives such as this can be very powerful. Here are two ways in which we think Channel 4 can make their campaign especially strong.

Represent ordinary people

The last Paralympic Games had an enormous impact on the way disabled people were portrayed in the media. The celebration of outstanding sporting achievements created an inspirational image of disabled people as ‘superhumans’ in the media.

Our Postcards from the Edges project captured the optimism felt during the 2012 Paralympics.

This was a very welcome change from the all too familiar misrepresentation of disabled people as ‘benefits scroungers'; however, the lack of a middle ground between these two extremes meant that many disabled people felt misrepresented. We discussed this in detail in our ‘Superhumans or Scroungers’ report.

The majority of the 11 million disabled people living in the UK live ordinary lives, but this is rarely evident in the media. We hope Channel 4 will use its ‘Year of Disability’ to represent a diverse range of people. This means featuring people who are neither inspirational nor helpless, and representing them in a way that does not just focus on their disability.  

A picture of a disabled guy in a wheelchair with the text

Fair and non-polarised representation of disabled people is paramount.

Recognise hidden disabilities

The media often focuses on people with physical disabilities. Although this is important, it means people with hidden disabilities, such as learning disabilities, autism and Asperger’s syndrome, are vastly underrepresented.

Public attitudes towards people with learning disabilities can be very negative due to a lack of understanding. New Mencap data has revealed that 30% of people with learning disabilities are worried about leaving their house on a typical Saturday. Within that group, 33.7% say it is because they fear being bullied and 25.7% fear being laughed at. Greater visibility of people with learning disabilities is essential if we are to improve inclusivity and transform public attitudes.

A little disabled girl in bed with the text

A third of people with a learning disability don't leave the house for fear of being bullied.

Equality and inclusivity are key

Channel 4 is known for producing a number of TV shows committed to equality and inclusivity. Reality TV show Kitchen Impossible, for example, offered the opportunity for people with a range of disabilities, including learning disabilities, autism and Down’s syndrome, to learn the skills they need to be employed in the hospitality industry.

We fully support the channel’s Year of Disability and, following their award-winning coverage of the 2012 Paralympics, we are confident that their work will have a positive impact on public attitudes towards disabled people.

We would like to see them continue this excellent work and ensure that they represent real people with a range of disabilities to challenge public attitudes and ensure greater inclusivity for all disabled people. We hope that other public-facing organisations will follow the example being set by Channel 4.

Danielle Mendel, press and campaigns assistant.

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