British soaps lead the way in disability representation

January 2019

Over the past few years, there have been significant steps taken to make the world a more inclusive society but one area that has always struggled to fairly represent disability is the TV and film industry.

Earlier this month, directors of The Upside faced a backlash for casting Bryan Cranston as the lead actor playing a character in a wheelchair.

Many people were angry that an able-bodied man was chosen instead of a disabled actor when there are many talented disabled actors in the industry.

However, while this may be one case of the TV and film industry arguably not fairly representing disabled people, British soaps are leading the way in disability representation.

Over the past few years, there have been more and more disabled characters with interesting storylines and, better still, disabled actors are playing in these roles.

In Eastenders, Donna Yates was played by actress Lisa Hammond who suffers from pseudoachondroplasia and joint hypermobility. Donna was a regular on the show between 2014 and 2018 and was a popular character with complex storylines.

James Moore is an actor and disability rights activist with cerebral palsy who recently won a National Television Award for Best Newcomer for his portrayal of Ryan Stocks on Emmerdale, another popular British soap. Fans have been sharing their excitement of James winning the award with many calling him a ‘legend’ and an ‘inspiration’ on social media. James said; “For Emmerdale to take on someone with a disability shows the progression we need in this day and age.”

While moments like this show there is progress being made, the British TV industry still has a long way to go in becoming truly inclusive and making this more of a norm. In 2018, a report by the Creative Diversity Network showed that disabled people make up between just 5.6% and 6.5% of on-screen talent (depending on genre). With 13.9 million people living with a disability in the UK, these figures show they are not yet being fairly represented on screen.

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