A new campaign launched by the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities aims to transform the way that people with learning disabilities are represented in the media. 

Too often, the roles are tokenistic or the focus is solely on their disability which gives a biased and unbalanced account of the realities of people’s lives.

The BBC and Channel 4 are already blazing a trail by making sure disabled people are more fairly represented on television, but we want to see all media outlets making even bolder steps towards equality.  Disabled people should be featured on television in the same way as everyone else, with their disabilities peripheral to the issues discussed or storylines involved. 

As our Campaigns Panel members told us as part of our ‘Superhumans or Scroungers’ report, there should be more television “programmes that treat disabled people as normal.”  They thought there was “too much emphasis on disabilities” and not enough about “people with disabilities leading ordinary lives.” 

That’s why we’re supporting the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities’ new campaign to change the way that disabled people are portrayed in the media.  As the campaign points out, people with learning disabilities are often cast in roles which focus exclusively on their disability and the difficulties they face as a result.  Or worse, they are the subjects of shocking or controversial documentaries.  And the end result of this is that people with learning disabilities are too often seen as being ‘other’ – victims, marginalised or just ‘different’.

That’s not true, of course, but the portrayals of disability shown in the media can be hugely influential; especially if they’re people’s only experience of disability.  The reference group behind the Foundation’s campaign – all of whom have learning disabilities – recognise this and think that they would be treated better if people with learning disabilities were shown more positively on television programmes.  You don’t have to look far to find evidence to support their ideas.

Take the 2012 Paralympics and the media’s wall-to-wall coverage of the successes of disabled athletes.  Instead of focusing on people’s disabilities, their achievements were celebrated in exactly the same way as their non-disabled counterparts.  A recent survey found that the Paralympic effect has continued, with 68% of people questioned saying that public attitudes towards disabled people have improved since the Paralympic Games.  Arguably, its impact can still be seen in the reception that disabled athletes competing in the Commonwealth Games are receiving. 


The Foundation have created a booklet of tips for broadcasters explaining how to involved people with learning disabilities in television programmes.  Why not have a look and send a copy to your local paper or favourite TV show? 

You can also sign their petition, which is calling for Ofcom to change the way that people with learning disabilities are represented on television and radio.  Together we can make sure that people with learning disabilities are seen and heard the way that they want.

Rachel Bowen, campaigns officer.