This week, I’ve being talking at the Edinburgh International TV festival, urging broadcasters and producers to get more disabled people on our TV screens and behind the scenes.
Next month, I’ll be co-hosting the Paralympics alongside RJ Mitte, Alex Brooker and a team of talented presenters the majority of who are disabled.
These amazing games are an opportune time to showcase the extraordinary talents of disabled athletes and encourage discussion on what it means to be disabled in the UK and the world today.
I feel super lucky to be co-hosting the games and am really excited by the fact there will be more disabled people on our TV screens than ever before, but this shouldn’t be something that just happens every 4 years.
It feels like an important moment, and one that we should feel proud of. But there’s absolutely no reason why we can’t have more disabled people broadcasting to the nation on a daily basis - at present it’s only 2.5%.
I would love to switch on my TV and see a disabled person talking about something they are genuinely interested in or acting out a part that doesn’t just focus on their impairment. It would make disability so much more familiar. And would make disabled people feel what they should - that we are just a normal part of modern Britain.
And it’s not just me, three in five (61%) disabled people believe seeing more disabled people on TV increases awareness of disability among members of the public, according to new research by the disability charity Scope.
We already know half of the British public don’t personally know anyone disabled and two-thirds of people admit to feeling awkward about disability.
That’s why the representation of disabled people on TV is hugely important and seeing disabled characters and presenters on our favourite shows could really help improve attitudes towards disability.
Fortunately for me, being disabled has never held me back and it’s certainly not been a barrier to my career. I’m patron of the disability charity Scope and I’ve just landed my dream job co-presenting the Paralympics in Rio but it’s not every day an opportunity like this lands in your lap. It’s a very tough, competitive industry but there are even more challenges for disabled people trying to break into the business.
So much more still needs to be done in terms of writing, casting and programme making to address the lack of disabled talent onscreen and in the media.
New research by Scope also reveals a staggering eight in ten (81%) disabled people do not feel they are well-represented on TV and in the media. However, the majority (77%) said that the coverage of the Paralympic Games had a positive impact on attitudes to disability over the past four years.
Whilst it’s true that the London 2012 Paralympics was a ground-breaking event, providing a catalyst to bring awareness to the general public and definitely enhance public perceptions, it seems there’s still a lot more work to do with making disability seem, well...just normal.