The television broadcasting industry needs to do more to increase the number of disabled people within its workforce, the regulator has warned, with new figures showing progress has stalled.
In its third annual Diversity and Equal Opportunities in Television report, Ofcom says that the proportion of disabled employees working in the UK-based TV industry remains at six per cent for 2018-19, the same as 2017-18.
It calls for a focus on this “continuing and significant under-representation of disabled people within the industry” and criticises the five main broadcasters for failing to make more progress in the last year.
It is particularly critical of Viacom, which owns Channel 5, and Sky.
Channel 4 leads the way on representation, with 11 per cent of its staff self-defining as disabled people, followed by BBC at 10 per cent, and Viacom at eight per cent.
But ITV (at four per cent) and Sky (at just three per cent) currently trail far behind.
Although the report focuses on the five main broadcasters, Ofcom also found that just one per cent of UK staff of broadcasters not based in the UK are disabled.
And its report says there are “significant gaps” in the monitoring of diversity among freelancers across the industry.
David Proud (pictured), a disabled actor, writer and producer, and a member of Ofcom’s new diversity panel, said broadcasters had to “stop thinking about disability as a risk”.
He said: “There’s a lot of unconscious bias… it’s not going to cost you a fortune to have disabled artists on your set, it’s not going to be any more risky for your project, it’s going to add value and it’s going to add authenticity.
“If you have someone with a disability as part of the creative process from day one they are going to be able to guide you and be a friendly ear to how the project’s developing and steer it in a direction that isn’t stereotypical or isn’t offensive.
“It’s the most simple thing in the world. If you want to represent a group of people, engage the group of people that you’re trying to represent.”
He added: “I can’t wait until we have a disabled person as a commissioner… as soon as we get disabled people at the highest level of our industry, it will all just be a lot better.”
The Ofcom report warns that some of the larger broadcasters still lack targets for improving disability representation and collection of data on the diversity of their staff.
And it calls on the industry to “materially improve” the proportion of disabled staff through targeted recruitment and career development programmes.
Ofcom says it is also concerned that fewer broadcasters than last year are providing it with data on disability, with less than a third (29 per cent) of broadcasters with at least one UK-based employee providing a full breakdown on the disability data of their staff.
There is no information on the disability status of 29 per cent of staff across the industry, a “marginal improvement” on last year’s 31 per cent.
But Sky’s “data gap” was 38 per cent, while Viacom’s was “extremely high”, with no information on whether 77 per cent of its staff identified as disabled people.
Ofcom also said that Sky had “yet to set clear targets and develop focused plans for disability”.
But Ofcom said there had been some positive developments.
BBC has promised that disabled people will make up 12 per cent of its workforce by the end of 2022.
Channel 4 has said it will shortly announce a major disability initiative in the lead-up to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, with the aim of supporting 100 disabled people to progress their careers in television.
Channel 4 is also planning to publish its first disability pay gap figures, which the BBC continues to publish annually.
ITV has held a series of disability awareness-raising events in the last year, with a focus on invisible impairments, and has announced a set of diversity targets for 2022 which include increasing representation of disabled people to eight per cent.
ITV is also working with Microlink, the assistive technology company.
And Viacom has continued to work with a consultant to create a more inclusive environment for disabled employees.
Ofcom also praised the five main broadcasters for their “bold and ambitious goal” of doubling the percentage of disabled people working in television by 2020.
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