BBC hopes plans will make it ‘top employer for disabled people’


newslatestPerformers and presenters have welcomed plans by the BBC to improve its representation of disabled people, both behind and in front of the camera.

The broadcaster said its “ambitious” plans would “radically change representation on air”, and make the BBC a “top employer” for disabled people.

Among the plans, it promises to quadruple on-air representation and portrayal of disabled people by 2017 – from 1.2 per cent to five per cent – and will appoint a pan-BBC “disability executive” to “champion disabled talent and projects”.

The executive – a position which appears to mirror Alison Walsh’s long-standing role at Channel 4 – will work across the BBC to improve “programming, commissioning and portrayal of disabled people including talent management”, champion disabled talent and projects through the BBC, and provide “expertise and support to colleagues”.

There are also plans to add to the BBC’s award-winning Extend scheme for disabled people who want to work in production, by improving the retention of graduates of the scheme through offering them training, having reports on their access needs prepared in advance, providing them with a BBC mentor, and arranging access to potential jobs within the organisation.

It will also work with Shaw Trust, and other disability organisations such as RNIB, Leonard Cheshire Disability and Remploy, to support disabled candidates to apply for 150 business support roles across the UK.

A BBC spokesman said: “This has the potential to influence cultural change at the BBC by having more people with disabilities working visibly in our buildings and teams across the UK.”

It also pledges to improve its recruitment processes and apprenticeship programme.

The plan is intended to help the broadcaster reach its existing target of increasing disabled staff and leadership to more than five per cent by 2017.

The disabled actor, writer and performer Mat Fraser welcomed the BBC’s plans to improve its representation of disabled people, but warned that it “needs to be driven through, including the difficult areas, until no one finds it strange or uncomfortable, but normal”.

He said the measures “look good”, as long as the disability executive “is not a powerless and token figure, used to sanction crap ideas about disability by more powerful producers who don’t know what they’re talking about”.

He added: “The quadrupling looks wonderful, a much-needed rebalancing of the actual world we live in.

“Again, as long as it’s not shit reality programmes about people’s disabilities, and instead a real commitment by the drama department, for example, to nurture disabled talent with a view to them being stalwart heavyweights of the actor stable, in series after series.

“I think that having a disabled commissioning editor is vital to this really happening, and the BBC should be promoting producers into this role, such as Ewan Marshall, David Hevey, and others.”

The disabled producer and presenter Paul Carter also welcomed the BBC’s announcement.

He said: “I think that on paper, the plans sound fantastic and it’s great to see another major broadcaster recognise the importance of disabled talent, both on screen and off.

“TV can only truly reflect its audiences if it’s representative of them, and that includes people behind the camera as well as in front of it.

“My only note of caution would be that they’re just words at present – we’ve had lots of similar promises in the past that haven’t been delivered [by broadcasters].

“I also hope that the proposed new disability executive is someone who has real commissioning power and is given the authority to drive genuine change across the organisation, rather than a tokenistic role with no real clout.”

Currently, 3.7 per cent of BBC staff are disabled people, with a 2017 target of 5.3 per cent, as well as 3.1 per cent of its “leadership”, with a 2017 target of five per cent.

Tony Hall, the BBC’s director-general, said: “It is vital we reflect the public we serve – both on and off air.

“While the BBC has some good schemes in place, we must and can do significantly more.”

17 July 2014