BAFTA-winning dramatist and playwright Jack Thorne has slammed the U.K. TV industry’s shoddy treatment of disability and has called for a quota to redress the situation.
Delivering the annual James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival, Thorne, a disabled professional whose credits include the West End play “Harry Potter and The Cursed Child,” Netflix film “Enola Holmes” and TV series “His Dark Materials,” said: “Disability is the forgotten diversity, the one everyone leaves out of speeches.”
“Gender, race, sexuality, all rightly get discussed at length. Disability gets relegated out,” Thorne said. “Producers have ignored disabled writers. Commissioners haven’t taken the opportunity to tell disabled stories. There are very few disabled people in front of the camera, and even fewer behind it.”
“TV has failed disabled people. Utterly and totally.”
Thorne called for an attitudinal change towards disability to begin with. While he hailed some of the shows that positively addressed disability including “Criptales” and the upcoming “Ralph and Katie,” that alone is not enough. “There is an intention to change, but that intention is not backed up by impositions on the makers to change their ways,” Thorne said, calling for a disability quota.
“Firm quotas behind and in front of the camera would fundamentally alter the stories being told,” Thorne said. “And these quotas need to be everywhere. Because change is required throughout our sector, not just in the making portion. Crucially it needs to be in drama schools and training institutions.”
The writer quoted some damning statistics to prove his point.
Some 20% of the population are disabled, yet they are represented by a mere 8.2% of on-screen talent, Thorne said. “A terrifying awful 5.4% of people work off-screen, of which, and this is most damning of all, the executives at the top are only 3.6% disabled,” said Thorne. He also mentioned the failure of The Creative Diversity Network’s partnership with broadcasters setting a target of doubling disability representation in front and behind the camera by 2021. The growth was only 0.9%, according to the CDN’s interim report, which also admits that it will take until 2041 to reach 20% disability representation at the current rate.
Thorne said that the quotas need to be enforced, and echoed historian and presenter David Olusoga’s plan, outlined on the same platform last year, for the U.K.’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to set up a body to enforce them.
The TV office buildings, many of which are still inaccessible to wheelchair users, also needed to change, Thorne said.
Elsewhere, Thorne roundly criticized the U.K. government policy that led to more than 105,000 COVID-19 patients in care homes succumbing to the virus, some 60% of them disabled.
“I think this last year has been about cowardice. The ignoring of the disabled experience. The ignoring of the unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands,” Thorne said. “And the time has come for TV to change. To reflect the experience of millions, and to protect –- to some degree — these millions through empathy. To do this, requires bravery on all our parts.”