British TV industry leaders are set to convene at an event in celebration of deaf, disabled and neurodivergent talent that will address their lack of representation on screen and commit attendees to specific action points.
Created by Bridge06 and Hot Coals Productions, the event — entitled About Time! — is positioned as a “call to action” for broadcasters, commissioners, casting agents, producers and agents — key roles that are central to improving the opportunities for deaf, disabled and neurodivergent creative communities.
Taking place on Oct. 28 at BAFTA, the event will feature 10 working deaf, disabled and neurodivergent actors, musicians and performers and will be hosted by the BAFTA-nominated “Don’t Take My Baby” actor Ruth Madeley and “Coronation Street” star Cherylee Houston.
Five key commitments to support systemic change within the industry have been created as part of the showcase. Invited guests will be asked to commit to making one or a number of suggested agreements, as part of accepting the invitation to attend.
- Cast a deaf, disabled and/or neurodivergent as a lead or co-lead performer in a new show
- Develop a new title around a deaf, disabled and/or neurodivergent actor
- Cast a returning drama with a deaf, disabled and/or neurodivergent actor in a key role or lead role
- Apply a 1 in 5 rule for talent meetings and castings to improve the opportunities for deaf, disabled or neurodivergent talent
- Schedule meetings with each of the actors taking part in About Time!
A dialogue around disability representation on- and off-screen in Britain has been steadily growing in recent years. BAFTA-winning “His Dark Materials” writer Jack Thorne in his 2021 MacTaggart Lecture slammed the U.K. TV industry’s shoddy treatment of disability and called for a quota to redress the situation. “TV has failed disabled people. Utterly and totally,” said Thorne.
Small steps are being made to right the balance, with shows such as the BBC’s “Ralph & Katie” featuring two protagonists with Down’s syndrome. The show is getting a heavy marketing push by the British public broadcaster, which has recognized its failings in disability representation. Elsewhere, deaf actor Rose Ayling-Ellis (“EastEnders”) won one of the U.K.’s most popular shows, “Strictly Come Dancing,” in 2021, and went on to deliver this year’s Alternative MacTaggart Lecture.
About Time! is devised and created by leading executive producer and industry veteran Sara Johnson, from Bridge06, and award-winning production partners Clare-Louise English and Jo Sargeant from Hot Coals Productions. The event is being produced in partnership with ITV, ITV Studios and Disney.
Johnson said: “This event was born out of conversations with Sam Tatlow, ITV’s creative diversity partner. Both of us [were] keen to address and tackle the misconceptions and repeated excuses of an industry who are still asking, ‘Where are the talent and are they any good?’ We were incredibly pleased when Disney also wanted to get on board and, from that strong partnership, Clare and Jo at Hot Coals Productions were able to forge ahead, powered by their own lived experience of the barriers.”
Johnson continued: “Bridge06 is rooted in our belief that representation isn’t difficult, but that it takes commitment and fresh thinking to enact the practical and attitudinal changes necessary. Listen to Television Access Project (TAP), Underlying Health Conditions (UHC), TripleC/DANC, Deaf and Disabled People in TV (DDPTV) and others who are showing you how to make your actions speak louder than your words. Isn’t it About Time we stopped asking disabled actors to be in showcases and instead just gave them the opportunity to show their talent in major roles, on the screens where they belong? It really is that simple.”
English and Sargeant of Hot Coals Productions added: “This is not the first time our community has asked for better opportunities, these conversations have been happening for decades, but it’s only now that the industry seems ready to listen. There is a thirst for more inclusive work and diverse characters.
They continued: “As one Deaf and one Dyspraxic artist, we created Hot Coals to produce a better kind of accessible work, to be the change we want to see in the industry, to challenge the status quo and to create opportunities for our community to thrive. We are driven by a desire to bring Deaf and disabled artists and their stories out of the fringes and into the mainstream, and the time is now. It is our hope that About Time! builds on the great work of those in the industry who have come before us, and moves the conversation forwards, focusing always on the talent and not the challenges and creating meaningful change.”