Disability in the media

What I learned from ITV on disability in the media

There was an event in Manchester this week looking at disability in the media and creative industries. I have some experience of getting stories out into the public domain in this area. When I was a student at Sheffield University, I looked into disability hate crime in South Yorkshire. At university, I learned the importance of making sure guests are comfortable and fairly represented. And that they are able to tell their story authentically.

Improving disability representation on TV

Nonetheless, the Disability Inclusion: In the Media and Creative Industries event was interesting. I attended with our client, sight loss charity, Henshaws. It opened with some of the things ITV have been doing to improve the portrayal of disabilities across its shows; Love Island, for example, was mentioned. Tasha Ghouri became the show’s first deaf contestant when she entered the villa in 2022. Lost Voice Guy, who won the 2018 edition of Britain’s Got Talent, was also mentioned.

There were further discussions on what disability is and the difference between visible and non-visible disabilities. Some people may choose to identify as disabled, while others may not. It’s up to the person.

Some of the ways ITV are trying to improve the number of disabled talent on-screen and off-screen is through initiatives such as the ITV Disability Passport, as part of their Diversity Acceleration Plan. 

According to their stats, ITV has the highest proportion of on-screen disabled talent out of all of the UK broadcasters. But they recognise that there is still more work to do.

Some of their big ideas for progress centre around creating opportunities for disabled people and telling stories as authentically as possible. John and Joe Bishop: Life After Deaf looks at the journey between father and son as both navigate life with the latter’s hearing impairment. The creators ensured much of the cast, including the show’s directors, were deaf so they could create as authentic a story as possible.

The event also wanted to highlight some of ITV’s talent who have a disability. Popular The Chase star Paul Sinha was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2019 and has spoken about being ‘quite immobile’ and ‘stiff’. Other stars of soaps such as Emmerdale have also spoken about having a disability.

One of the last things the event wanted to highlight was not viewing disability as something which is ‘sad’ or that evokes ‘pity’. There is a ‘diversity dividend’ when people feel emotionally connected when they see themselves in everyday life. This is why having disabled people on TV matters. It shows how different people live and how different people’s lives are.

The event was engaging and really opened my eyes to how those who identify as disabled can be represented. I had not thought about disability in the ways it was discussed. I believe this will inform my PR and outreach activities with Henshaws and our other clients.

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