There are not enough disabled role models on TV or in film, according to a recent column. With around 11 million people currently living with a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability in the UK, there are very few roles played by disabled people on UK screens.
In the column, Jan Shure, co-founder of SoSensational.co.uk, reveals she is currently suffering an impairment following surgery to remove a brain tumour. She said: “I am currently one of the 11 million disabled. Naturally, that has made me more sensitive to, and aware of, the needs of the disabled and more aware of the wide range of disabilities, which tend to be merged in a way that is not always helpful.
“Where are the positive role models on screen? I am not referring to people in production jobs, or featuring in news or documentaries talking about disability, but in dramas or films showing how a disabled person is leading a good productive life, much as ‘Clarissa’ does on Silent Witness, as ‘Ironside’ did, and as ‘Joey Lucas’ did on West Wing.”
In November 2016, UK disability charity Scope posted an article on this issue. The charity said: “Twenty years ago, the United Nations proclaimed November 21 World Television Day. Two decades since, TV has changed dramatically, with on-demand digital streaming, 24-hour rolling news and an endless range of channels having a dramatic impact on our cultural lives. But in that time, has TV’s attitude to and portrayal of disabled people also changed dramatically, or do they remain stuck in the past?”
The article states that roles that are available to disabled actors are often limited to those for which the writer or director have decided that a disabled person is specifically needed to fulfil a plot point or address an issue. Rosemary Frazer, a disability campaigner and trainer at Scope, said: “It is very rare to see roles like that of Walt Junior in Breaking Bad, whose cerebral palsy was incidental to the series’ storyline.
“With not enough actors being given the opportunity to develop their skills, disabled roles are also often given to non-disabled but more experienced actors. Think Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawkins or Charlize Theron in Mad Max.”