BBC unveils three-prong strategy to improve disability representation

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The BBC has unveiled a three-prong strategy to improve disability representation on and off screen in 2020.

The initiatives are to create more opportunities, ensure more disabled people are working on the public broadcaster’s top programmes and improve how those with disabilities navigate the corporation.

The BBC previously committed to increasing the number of disabled people in its workforce from 8% in 2016 to 12% in 2022. This initiative is part of the BBC’s commitment to the CDN’s Doubling Disability plan, to double the number of disabled people working behind the camera in television by 2020.

The first piece of the strategy is new programme BBC Elevate, which will aim to create a greater pool of off-screen disabled talent that will regularly work across broadcasting.

BBC Elevate is talent-led, and tailored to respond to the specific needs of individual disabled people who already have some experience in the industry. The aim is to unlock barriers to progression and ensure off-screen disabled talent are reaching their full potential.

Participants can work on and gain experience across the BBC’s key shows, including EastEnders, Line Of Duty, Call The Midwife, Strictly Come Dancing, Antiques Roadshow, Gardeners’ World and Who Do You Think You Are?.

Opportunities will be available across the UK including the Nations and Regions.

Secondly, the BBC is to improve representation of disability on screen, with “improved incidental and integrated disability portrayal in existing programmes and core brands”.

As part of this drive, Amar Latif, the blind British broadcaster and entrepreneur, is joining the line-up in the next season of Pilgrimage; actress and comedian Liz Carr is delving into her family tree in Who Do You Think you Are?; and disabled panellists are joining Celebrity Mastermind and Would I Lie To You.

As well, there will be specially commissioned landmark content in 2020 and beyond and the return of popular series with disability themes and disabled characters.

Today, it was revealed that BBC One has commissioned Endor Productions and Clearwood Films for one-off drama But When We Dance, following a couple with Parkinson’s.

Elsewhere, BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner is to confront the challenges of suddenly becoming disabled; comedian and presenter Alex Brooker will explore what disability means to him; actor Mat Fraser will curate a series of ambitious and challenging monologues on the theme of disability; and comedy series Jerk will return for another season.

Finally, the BBC Passport is to be rolled out early next year for staff with a disability working at the BBC.

The Passport is a centralised document that an individual agrees can be used to inform managers about their disability so that when they move roles they have the support they need in place.

It will help to inform and assist managers to facilitate a smooth transition between roles and provide adequate support or adjustments for individuals when they are in post.

Individuals who choose to use the passport will provide detail about the impact of any health conditions and any workplace adjustments that have already been put in place. They can then use the document to discuss any changes in circumstances with their manager, either in their existing position or a new role.

Alison Kirkham, controller of factual commissioning, said: “We want to set the bar forever higher for the entire industry, both with off-screen talent and on-screen representation. In the past, the industry hasn’t always done enough to offer opportunities for disabled people and so has missed out on their talent.

“With BBC Elevate we want to ensure the BBC leads the way in enabling disabled people in TV to progress. By working with some of the UK’s biggest shows we are giving applicants a chance to develop their careers and enabling our flagship brands to benefit from their experience and talent. I hope that the legacy of this initiative is sustained, enduring change which creates a greater pool of disabled people working across the industry, complemented by a richer portrayal of the lives and stories of disabled people on screen.”

Allan MacKillop, the BBC’s Disability Lead who has been developing the passport with support from the disability staff network BBC Ability since he joined the BBC earlier this year, added: “Introducing the passport is a major step forward in breaking down barriers and demonstrates both our commitment to career progression for disabled staff and to creating a more inclusive culture.

“BBC Elevate intends to make a tangible difference to the careers of many talented disabled people in TV who face some particular challenges with progression. We want to shift the dial for the longer term, and we are determined to replicate some of that across the industry.”

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