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Disability on TV - are we there yet?

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Vaughan | 11:25 UK time, Tuesday, 15 May 2012

TV director in a production gallery

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Once upon a time there was little in the way of representation of disabled people on TV. In 2012, however, the perception is that there is quite a lot all of a sudden. Why is this? And are disabled people shown in the way they would want?

In recent weeks we've seen programmes like The Undateables, Extreme Love with Louis Theroux, We Won't Drop the Baby, Derek and Turtle Boy.

TV makers Kate Monaghan and Kevin Mulhern, both of whom are disabled, took part in a lively debate about disability on the box on this month's podcast from Ouch!

Mulhern made ITV's Link, a regular Sunday morning programme produced by disabled people for disabled people, which ran from the '70s through to the '90s. Reacting to the common call that disabled people should be mainstreamed into regular TV, he says television needs to be careful

"I don't believe in this approach where we just say, well, actually we're just a part of the ordinary community, We just happen to have no legs or no eyes or no ears. I think we do actually have an identity."

Referring to the three other disabled people gathered in the radio studio, and a dark banter they share when off air, he said: "The relaxation in here when the mikes are off, what we say to each other, is still not broadcastable because of the fact that nobody would understand the shorthand language disabled people use. I would love to see that get out there."

Many believe that if disabled people are missing from the crew behind the camera, the programmes are likely to be less well informed. Though some of the broadcasters have bespoke training placements aimed at disabled people, it's still considered hard to break into if you're a member of this community.

Monaghan, managing director of Markthree Media, and a generation younger than Kevin, speaks about the difficulties. She says: "To start in this industry, the first job you go for is a runner. And there are so many, many, many disabled people who can't do that job. So how do you start if you can't be the tea monkey?"

Disability is firmly fixed on the nation's agenda this year as the Paralympics are to be held in London in August. It's perhaps no surprise, then, that disability is an attractive newsworthy proposition, and we'll be seeing much more this summer at the Games.

Ouch! is a regular podcast from the BBC with a fresh perspective on disability. It's presented by Liz Carr and Rob Crossan.

Subscribe to the podcast and have it sent directly to your MP3 player, or listen via your computer on the web.


  • Comment number 1.

    When 80% of tv output is rubbish, 80% of programmes about disabled people will be rubbish. We can't isolate ourselves from this wider context. As Kevin said, the issue is about being part of the mainstream to a point where we're visible not as disabled people, but because we're part of the community. Crap tv progs aren't helping us get there.


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