Thursday, 23 February 2017

Sound and fury, signifying nothing.

As a campaigner who has pushed for equal representation of disabled people across the entertainment industry for 9 years, I read the proposal by the Minister for Disabled people, calling or wider representation of disability in the entertainment & fashion industry, with interest.

TV & Film, the games industry and all forms of media are the greatest influencers we have and it's vital that if we are to hope for equality of representation, that disabled people are routinely featured. 

When I launched my campaign via the guardian in 2008, I contacted the ONS in order to get statistics on disabled consumers.

My point was that, as disabled people do everything that non disabled people do, e.g. buy food, go on holiday, wear clothes, utilise banks and drink alcohol, then it was confusing to me that advertisers didn't feature any disabled people doing any of these things in their advertising. The response from the ONS was that they didn't hold any statistics in this area. 

The problem to me was clear, why was an entire section of our collective community being excluded from the section of life that the majority of people experience. TV and film fashion and music and latterly the gaming industry seemed to have its own set of impairments when it came to representing disabled people. They didn't seem to be able to see, communicate, hear or understand why equality of representation of disabled people of all ages was important. 

However now that The Minister for Disabled People has raised the issue perhaps things might change. As long as none of the disabled performers, models, writers, game designer, singers, directors, musicians, paralympians and fashion designers intend to rely on motability vehicles or any of the in work benefits, crucial to achieving this representation, that is. That may prove
trickier, but I digress.

It's been identified by Channel 4's Dan Brooke that there is a financial benefit to companies in placing disabled people in ads. In recent times the financial deficit has precipitated an austerity, which places disabled benefit claimants. at the forefront of cuts. The narrative of “scrounger and striver” has been widely touted so it's good to know that disabled talent is making some people some money, at last.

I leave the money making and taking, up to others as this is a hidden benefit for millions of disabled people. I'd just like to see more people like me and my children represented.

I launched the campaign dontplaymepayme.com because my daughter Lizzy was the first person in the UK with autism to play a character with the same condition. But I’ve digressed again.

I'd like to believe that millions of disabled people can see themselves and their stories shown and appreciated. Stories and games they’ve written or designed, drawn, portray and direct. Stories that feature disabled protagonists where the least interesting aspect of the character is their disability. Not a plot point which means they must be saved or portrayed by a non-disabled actor en route to awards season glory or as an aspect to a music video as an interesting side note.

People like us are everywhere but the reluctance to reveal diagnosis for fear of backlash or further stigma walks beside us all the time. When I revealed my diagnosis of Autism I was called brave because in this day and age it is brave to say that you’re different. The beauty industry spends a great deal of time trying to get all women to look between 25 and 30. If looking your age is cause for pause, then how can full acceptance of all diversity be achieved.

Non-disabled representation of disabled life can be part of the picture but currently it is the only game in town. How many disabled performers are invited to casting sessions every week. When the casting team have a duty to present the production team with a full range of suitable candidates, disability must feature too. I would also like to see disabled children in all toy catalogues because, as strange as this might seem, disabled children like toys too.

Authentic portrayal and inclusion was the basis of my campaign. I'm sure we can look forward to the representatives hand picked by The Minister for Disabled People, to represent disabled people and having the best interests of disabled people at the heart of what they do. I wonder how many of them will actually be disabled people, I guess we'll have to wait and see.