Category Archives: Inside Scope

Tell the Government about your experiences as a disabled consumer

Last week the Government published a consultation called Modernising Consumer Markets, which is looking at ways to improve how different markets work for consumers.

We know that disabled people often face challenges as consumers, which can drive up the cost of essential goods and services. Below we outline what this consultation is about and some of the changes we want to see for disabled people.

What is this consultation looking at?

This Government wants to hear about ways to improve consumers’ experiences across different markets. This includes both regulated services such as energy and insurance, as well as private sector businesses selling things like food and clothing.

Whilst the Government wants to ensure that markets are competitive, there is an acknowledgement in this consultation that no one should be exploited if they lack the time or capacity to engage, and that “vulnerable” consumers need to be protected.

Some of the proposals the Government is considering including making it easier for consumers to compare the performance of businesses, and simplifying terms and conditions when consumers enter into new contracts. The Government is also interested in the role that data could play in helping consumers get the best deals or receive targeted support and advice – recognising the need to balance this with preserving privacy for consumers.

Improving disabled people’s experiences as consumers

There are almost 14 million disabled people in the UK, whose combined household expenditure, the so-called ‘purple pound’, totals £249 billion a year.

However, we know that disabled people often face challenges as consumers, which can drive up the cost of essential goods and services. Our research shows that on average, disabled people face extra costs of £570 a month related to their impairment or condition.

In some instances, disabled people are unable to access the products or services they need. For instance, our research shows that over half (55 per cent) of disabled adults have been unable to make a purchase because of an inaccessible website. Tackling these barriers is key to ensuring consumer markets work for disabled people.

Disabled people commonly tell us about experiences of poor customer service or a lack of disability awareness from businesses. We want to see a more consistent approach from businesses to supporting disabled consumers, particularly within regulated markets.

It’s also important that consumers are able to seek redress when something goes wrong. However, disabled people say that they are often put off making a complaint because of things like the length of time it can take and a lack of trust in the process. These challenges need to be addressed as part of this consultation.

How you can get involved?

This consultation is an opportunity for you to share your consumer experiences. The deadline for responses is 11:45pm on 4 July 2018.

You can send a response online via this online survey.

You can also email a response to ConsumerGreenPaper@beis.gov.uk

If you’d prefer to send a written response, you can write to:

Consumer Green Paper Team
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
1st Floor, Orchard 3
1 Victoria Street
London
SW1H 0ET

What will we be doing next?

We will be submitting a response to this consultation, highlighting the changes needed to ensure disabled people receive a fair experience across different markets.

We’ll also be carrying out further research to ensure this consultation reflects the issues facing disabled people as consumers.

In the coming weeks we will be putting out more information on how you can get involved.

In the meantime, if you’d like to share your consumer experiences, please contact Ben Wealthy in the policy team on ben.wealthy@scope.org.uk.

Virgin Media helps ParalympicsGB go for gold

In this guest post, our partner Virgin Media, is excited to announce their partnership with the British Paralympic Association (BPA). 

Virgin Media in partnership with us and the BPA have the ambition to positively change attitudes towards disability to drive participation of disabled people in work and everyday life.

At Virgin Media, we celebrate and value differences. This includes working to change attitudes towards disability – supporting disabled people in work and everyday life. That’s why we have partnered with Scope until 2020 to support more disabled people to get into and stay in work.

But our ambitions don’t end there. We also want to change attitudes towards disability to help drive participation of disabled people in the UK.

That’s why we’re so delighted to announce our new partnership with the BPA. This means that Virgin Media is supporting ParalympicsGB in their fearless quest, both in PyeongChang and in Tokyo in 2020. We’ve watched ParalympicsGB go from strength to strength over the years and I am thrilled we have the opportunity to support these athletes so they can reach even greater heights.

Not only does this partnership sit perfectly alongside our existing work with Scope, we know that sport has the power to inspire the country.

The 2012 and 2016 Paralympics were landmark moments that saw the country rally behind our Paralympic stars. And it did more than just spur us to unprecedented successes at the games.

Research from Scope shows that these sporting successes can change attitudes right across society:

  • Three quarters (78%) of disabled people say the Paralympics improve attitudes and four in five (82%) say the Games change negative assumptions to disability.
  • The poll of 1,000 disabled adults reveals that four in five (82%) believe the Games make disabled people more visible in wider society and challenge negative assumptions about what disabled people can achieve.
  • And more than three quarters (78%) of disabled people say the Paralympics have a positive impact on attitudes to disability.

In addition, recent research we commissioned to mark the start of our partnership with the BPA showed that Paralympians are the most inspirational athletes for young children.

Of course sport can’t change everything. That is why Virgin Media, Scope and BPA will be campaigning all year round, long after ParalympicsGB leave PyeongChang.

We are partnering with incredible organisations like Scope and the BPA to transform lives of disabled people, whether it’s on the snow or ice, in the workplace, or by shifting attitudes towards disability.

Our amazing Paralympians are already achieving great things in PyeongChang everyone at Virgin Media is cheering the team on.

To keep up to date on how ParalympicsGB is performing at PyeongChang, visit the BPA’s website or follow them on Twitter @ParalympicsGB

Thanks to these mums, we’re getting closer to equality

This year for Mother’s Day we wanted to take a moment to say thank you to the mums who are campaigning and raising awareness to make everyday equality for disabled people a reality. ‘Not all heroes wear capes’ and thanks to their work, the world will be a better place, not just for their children but for your children too.

We wish we could thank you them all individually but, for now, here are the stories of just a few of the incredible mums we’ve been working with.

Christie

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Christie and her daughter Elise

Last year, among many other things, Christie starred in a Scope video talking about inaccessible play areas. The video was picked up by someone at the local park committee and a fundraiser was started. As a result, enough money was raised to make Christie’s local park accessible not just for her daughter Elise but all disabled children in the area. Christie also does a lot of awareness raising in the media and started her own Facebook page.

“As a family, you want to be out doing things but nobody ever seems to think about disabled children. I feel like Elise misses out because the world is still not accessible. Sometimes I don’t want to go to places, which means I’ll sit in the house and get angry at the world, then get sad for Elise, and sad for my older daughter Lucy.  But instead of letting it get to me, I’ve decided to change the world instead.

I started a Facebook page called Elise Smashed It. I want everyone to see what an amazing little girl Elise is. I hope it raises awareness and changes perceptions about disability. I want to help other parents too and show them that there is hope. It might not be the life you were expecting, but it’s not the end – it’s just the start of a different life and you’re not alone.”

Marie

Marie w flowers
Marie at the park with her son Mark

Marie has worked with us on some of our biggest campaigns including The Disability Price Tag and Work With Me. Marie’s motivation to fight for everyday equality is her son Mark. Her impairment doesn’t affect her ability to be a great mum, but she’s told us about unfair barriers that have an impact on family life.

“As a mum, I’m just like any other parent – disability doesn’t change anything – but I do face unfair barriers that have an impact on family life. I need a new wheelchair but it will cost £9,000 and we’ve been told we have to pay for that ourselves – which we can’t afford. I feel guilty as a parent because when my wheelchair breaks I haven’t been able to do things with my son Mark, like take him to the park.

Mark is always doing things and he most definitely doesn’t see me as anything other than ‘mum’, but he shouldn’t have to miss out. Something needs to change because it’s not fair. We should be able to do things like any other family.

My husband Dan and I have started making an album for Mark, for when he is much older, to show him all the times I have done things for magazines and TV, to raise awareness and create change.”

Sarah

SarahB
One of Sarah’s many ‘toilet selfies’ – to raise awareness of inaccessible toilets

Sarah is a campaigning to improve the accessibility of toilets and bathrooms in the UK. Her blog about her son Hadley has significantly raised awareness of the issue, including her toilet selfie advent calendar that went viral in December.

“Hadley was about three years old when he got too big for baby changing units. I realised my only other option was lying him on the floor, which was a bit of a shocker.

Until then I believed accessible toilets contained everything a disabled person needs. It was a huge eye opener for me. I decided there and then that I needed to get involved in campaigning.

In the long term I don’t want Hadley being an adult and having to fight his fight. If we don’t stand up for our kids who else will?”

Carly

Carly UN
Carly and her daughter ‘following in her footprints’ at the United Nations

It took 32 years for Carly to get her autism diagnosis, after years of being misunderstood and brushed off by professionals. Now Carly works tirelessly to raise awareness of autism and girls and create equality for people with autism . As a single mum to three daughters, two of whom are also autistic, she’s creating a better future for them and setting a wonderful example as a role model. This year Carly was awarded an MBE for her work, which notably includes a speech at the United Nations.

“In 2008, I was told by educational staff that it was impossible that I could have two autistic daughters because autism only happens to boys. Every book I picked up to try to understand and support my daughters all referred to ‘he’ or ‘my son’. There was nothing for girls. I just thought why? I’ve been working to change that ever since.

It’s a really exciting time because I’m looking around and seeing so much more awareness of autism and girls. People finally believe we exist – yippee! That’s my first eight years done. Now my next eight years will be about making sure we have equality; making sure we have the same protection and opportunities as everyone else.

Navigating an untrodden path is scary but it leaves established footprints for our daughters to one day follow.”

Join the conversation on Twitter and tell us about some of the amazing mothers we haven’t mentioned.

International Women’s Day – “We need to be the role models we want to see”

This International Women’s Day we’re celebrating some of the amazing women we’ve worked with already in 2018. They’re bold, uncompromising and helping to make everyday equality a reality. 

Sam Renke

Profile picture of End the Awkward star Sam Renke

Actor Sam Renke, has supported our End the Awkward campaign as well as starring in Maltesers’ hugely successful disability focused adverts. Sam constantly challenges assumptions and negative attitudes towards disability through her own work and as a Scope Role Model.

“Curiosity is a good thing, and disabled people will always come across it. I want to deal with it in a positive way. Ignorance breeds ignorance – how are people going to learn if they don’t ask questions?

It’s all about bringing the barriers down. I try and encourage people to be more open-minded.”

Carly Jones

Carly Jones has worked with us this year talking Carly Jones - woman wearing t-shirt saying "autistic girl power"about autism and challenging perceptions about what she can and can’t do.  In January Carly was awarded an MBE for her work raising awareness about autism and girls. 

“Globally there needs to be more recognition of autism and girls. In the UK it’s a really exciting time because I’m looking around and seeing so much more awareness.

People finally believe we exist – yippee! That’s my first eight years done. Now my next eight years will be about making sure we have equality; making sure we have the same protection and opportunities as everyone else.”

Rosie Jones

Rosie Jones - Woman standing again blue background in a pick top

Rosie Jones is an actor and comedian. This year she spoke to us about the need to give more opportunities to disabled actors. Rosie also starred in a groundbreaking episode of the BBC One hit series, Silent Witness that focused on attitudes towards disability.

“Media has a pivotal role to play in changing attitudes towards disability. I want to turn on my TV and see a disabled person reading the news. Although, perhaps not me…that would take far too long!”

Hannah Barham-Brown

As Woman in a wheelchair, smilinga Junior Doctor, Hannah Barham-Brown constantly challenges pre-conceptions about disability in the work place. She’s currently working with us on our Work With Me campaign to help get more disabled people into employment.

“I think, to an extent, we need to be the role models we want to see” 

You can read more from Hannah on her blog.

Pippa Stacey

Woman holding a "spoonie survival kit" smiling

Pippa Stacey is a writer and social entrepreneur. This year she became an Olivier Awards Be Inspired Champion, for her campaigning on accessible theatre. She also founded the successful Spoonie Survival Kits, to support people with chronic illness.

“The most rewarding aspect of the project in my eyes, has been developing accessible and remote volunteering opportunities, inclusive of chronically ill people. Many of the items within our kits are handmade by talented crafters living with chronic illnesses.

My new year’s resolution was to continue ‘paying it forward’, and I wholeheartedly encourage you to do the same!”

Shani Dhanda

Asian woman standing outside.Shani Dhanda is a disability rights advocate and social entrepeneur. This year Shani shared her experiences with us to highlight the Extra Costs that disabled people in England and Wales face.  Shani campaigns tirelessly for disability equality and is passionate about making sure BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) are represented in these conversations.

“Social attitudes are a significant barrier. Many struggle to see the person beyond the impairment or condition and act awkwardly. One in four people have admitted to avoiding conversations with disabled people because they worry about causing offence or don’t know what to say. This really astonished me.

I’ve also experienced loneliness as an adult, being excluded from social situations or activities due to my condition or people making assumptions about what I am able to do, or not. It’s really frustrating, especially as I’m a very independent person who will always find an alternative way of doing things.”

Which women do you think are doing amazing things this year? Let us know on Twitter with the hashtag #InternationalWomensDay.

“I have problems with my mobility and I’m at home every day. As a result, my energy bill has shot up”

Our new report, Out in the cold, reveals the high costs many disabled people face for their energy. 

Over a third of disabled people say that their impairment or condition has an impact on their energy costs. Many disabled adults have worried about paying their energy bills, and many disabled households are living in fuel poverty. 

This follows our research published last week which found that on average, disabled people face extra costs of £570 a month related to their impairment or condition.  

Paying more for energy is something that Lynley knows all too well. When she became disabled her energy costs shot up. In this blog, Lynley talks about the impact this has had on her life.

Three year ago I suffered a sacral spinal fracture due to early-onset osteoporosis, which damaged nerves and has left me with permanent neurological pain.

Before I became disabled, I never gave the heating a thought. It wasn’t on very often, but things are different now. I have problems with my mobility and I’m at home every day. As a result, my energy bill has shot up. 

When you can’t move around, you feel the temperature much more and being cold affects my pain levels enormously. I have to wear extra layers of clothing to keep warm and I need the heating on constantly.

I also have an electric blanket for my bed and an electric heat pad which I use to help with my pain. I use electricity to charge my electric powerchair which I need to use to get around outside the house. This needs charging frequently so it’s another additional energy cost.

My bill is so much higher than before. Coupled with the loss of my income as a teacher, this has made ‘getting by’ very difficult. Personal Independence Payment (PIP) helps but there is very little money left over for anything else. I have to prioritise heating so that I’m not in pain.

Life is now very different

Since becoming disabled, my living standards have changed dramatically. I was a professional secondary school teacher in a large comprehensive and was managing five members of departmental staff. I had a large amount of disposable income and enjoyed a fairly busy social life. Things are now very different.

I’m unable to work and now try my best to manage on my benefits  and my small pension but it is very difficult sometimes. Energy costs take up a substantial portion of my income. It’s even harder where I live because we are unable to get mainstream gas and have to rely on oil central heating which is extremely expensive.

Any kind of social life is extremely difficult, holidays are a luxury and disposable income is now virtually non-existent.

What would help

It’s not fair that disabled people who need more energy and who might be on lower incomes  have to meet these extra costs themselves.  There should be more support and awareness. I haven’t received any form of financial help with my energy costs.

Benefits like PIP are there to supposedly fill the gap but it is insufficient to really make a difference. I would like to see a different energy tariff applied if there is a disabled person within the home, much the same as the council tax rebate we are eligible for.

That would make a big difference to my quality of life.

Help us to get people talking about the extra costs. Share our report on Facebook  or Twitter using the #ExtraCosts

We also have information about support with your fuel bills

“I’m 22 and financially screwed” – help us tackle the disability price tag

Our new report The disability price tag highlights how disabled people on average face extra costs of £570 a month related to their impairment or condition. Many disabled people have shared their experiences of extra costs with us, and the impact that this has on their lives. It’s an injustice that needs to change. In this blog, Piers, a student in Wales, shares his experience. 

I’m currently studying for a Masters in Physical Oceanography. Being at university, surrounded by my non-disabled peers, has really highlighted the sheer amount of extra money that I have to spend, just because I happen to use a wheelchair.

“I’d say that every month I have an extra cost of about £1300 compared to my non-disabled friends.”

Firstly, my wheelchair itself was incredibly expensive and I had to pay for that myself. The wheelchair offered by the NHS was unsuitable for my needs, so I had to pay over £4,800 for one just to be able to get around and go to lectures just like everyone else.

On top of that, on average, I spend another £300 a month replacing parts and maintaining the chair. Even with this upkeep, it needs to be completely replaced every three or four years.

My housing is also more expensive than my friends – the only accessible student housing available is £110 per week, whereas friends of mine pay as little as £40 a week for similar housing.

Travel costs are increased due to the unreliability of public transport, the nature of hills in North Wales and the location of my lectures. I have to spend about £400 a month on taxis just to get around.

Food costs are also higher. I require easy to prepare food, either pre-chopped or in small quantities. My friends can buy items like pasta in bulk or do a large shop and carry it home. Unfortunately as a wheelchair user, it’s really difficult to manage more than a small basket of items whenever I go shopping. So this can increase my monthly bill compared to my friends by an extra £150.

Related to that, because so many shops aren’t accessible, I have to order a lot of the things I need online and get charged for postage. It may not seem much per item but all of those payments add up over the year.

Man holding a basketball on a court playing wheelchair basket ball

Financially, I’m screwed

My income each year is decreasing. Even with a student loan, Disabled Students’ Allowance and Personal Independence Payment (PIP), I still face a monthly shortfall.

It plays havoc with my social life because I can’t afford to do much, and if I do anything I’m worried about its cost. I have to take almost every freelance opportunity to earn any money I can to try to keep myself afloat, which impacts on my studies.

It’s socially exclusionary as well because my friends stop asking me to go do things with them because they assume I can’t afford things, which means I do even less.

Basically I’m 22 and financially screwed. It’s almost impossible to get a part time student job just because I use a wheelchair. I’ll be leaving university with at least £130,000 debt.

Man on a beach in a wheelchair next to a sign that says 'seating on promenade prohibited'

What needs to change

Firstly, businesses have a huge role to play. I’d love it if the items I needed to live independently weren’t extortionately priced. Companies know that as a disabled person I need the item so they can charge whatever they want. And there should be no delivery charge or a minimum spend for disabled customers.

There should be increases to PIP so it’s in line with the reality of these extra costs and investment into accessible housing so that it isn’t a quality that increases prices of housing astronomically. I also want to see the NHS bespoke wheelchair service restored and free NHS treatment – this would greatly reduce my extra costs.

Related to this, there’s the issue of employment. Extra costs aside, people rely on employment for financial security, yet there are many barriers to employment for disabled people – employers’ attitudes and discrimination being one of them.

Help us tackle the extra costs faced by disabled people. Find out more about extra costs, then share our report on Twitter or Facebook.

You can also read more stories or share your own experiences in our extra costs discussion on the community.

Tackling the price tag of disability

Life costs more if you’re disabled.

Our new report, The disability price tag, reveals that disabled people are forced to pay more for everyday essentials.   

From expensive items of equipment or adapted cutlery, to higher energy bills and costly insurance premiums, disabled people face extra costs across all areas of life.

Read more about our research and how we can tackle the price tag of disability. 

The financial penalty of disability

Four years ago we published research into disabled people’s extra costs and began campaigning for change.

Four years on, disabled people still face a substantial financial penalty.

Our latest research finds that disabled people face extra costs of £570 a month related to their impairment or condition. For one in five disabled people, these costs amount to over £1,000 a month.

This is on top of welfare payments such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP) designed to help meet these costs.

This disability price tag leaves disabled people with less money to spend on other things, and unable to afford the same standard of living as non-disabled people.

After housing costs have been met, almost half (49 per cent) of disabled people’s remaining income is spent on disability-related costs.

Even for disabled people in work, average monthly extra costs are £492. And across the country costs vary substantially, from an average of £482 in the East of England to an average of £632 in Scotland.

What are the types of extra costs disabled people face?

Disabled people we talk to tell us that they face extra costs across many areas of their lives. These costs broadly fall into three categories:

  • Paying for specialised goods, like a wheelchair, a hoist or adapted cutlery
  • Having to spend more on everyday things, like heating or items of clothing
  • Paying over the odds for things, like insurance or accessible taxis

Marie is just one of many disabled people faced with extra costs. She uses a specially adapted wheelchair which needs replacing, but this would cost her £9,000. Marie and her husband also recently spent around £4000 on a specially adapted kitchen.

The extra costs of disability mean disabled people are less able to build financial resilience. They make it harder for disabled people to get a job, pay into savings and pensions, and participate fully in society.

What needs to change?

We cannot afford to ignore this problem.

Government, regulators and businesses all need to play a role in tackling the extra costs of disability.

We need action to ensure disabled people have the right support to help with extra costs. PIP helps with some of the additional costs of disability – but too often the PIP assessment fails to capture the extra costs many disabled people face.

We want to see an overhaul of the assessment so that disabled people get the support they need to help meet disability-related costs.

We also need to tackle the drivers of extra costs. We know disabled people are often underserved as consumers, leading to increased costs for essential goods and services like energy and insurance.

Today we are calling on businesses and regulators to set out what they will do to ensure disabled consumers are not paying over the odds.

What will we be doing next 

We will be reporting annually on disabled people’s extra costs to assess any changes over time. We will also be publishing research later on this year into the additional costs faced by families of disabled children.

What are your experiences of #ExtraCosts. Share your experiences in our extra costs discussion on the community.

What do recent announcements on PIP and ESA mean for disabled people?

Our welfare system plays an essential role in supporting disabled people to be more financially secure.

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) for instance helps disabled people to cover some of the additional costs faced as a result of an impairment or condition. For disabled people who are out of work, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is important in helping to meet day-to-day costs.

Over the past few months there has been a lot of attention on PIP and ESA. Here we look at what’s been happening and what these changes mean for disabled people.

High Court ruling on PIP

Back in April 2017 the Government made changes to PIP that tightened up access to the payment for many disabled people. We campaigned against these changes, which made a crude distinction between people with physical impairments and mental health problems.

Then, in December 2017, the High Court ruled that some of these changes were discriminatory and should be scrapped.

The Government last month said that it won’t be appealing this decision and that it will be reviewing all decisions relating to PIP awards since the payment  was introduced.  They estimate that up to 220,000 disabled people will receive backdated payments where necessary.

This is a welcome decision, as we know PIP is a lifeline for disabled people. In research we carried out with over 500 recipients of either PIP or DLA, 58 per cent said that even a small reduction in their PIP award would have a significant impact on their ability to live independently.

What does this mean for disabled people?

  • The Government will review all PIP assessment reports to identify individuals who could be eligible for a backdated payment.
  • This includes people who were not eligible for PIP following an assessment.
  • No one will need to go through a repeat assessment.
  • The Government has not yet announced when the review will start, or in what order claims will be reviewed.

PIP and ESA assessments

This week, the Work and Pensions Select Committee published a report following an inquiry in to how PIP and ESA assessments are working for disabled people.

This made recommendations to Government to improve the way that applications and assessments for PIP and ESA are carried out, such as using more accessible forms of communication and offering home assessments.

The Committee also put forward ideas to make sure decisions about disability benefits are fair and transparent. These include recording assessments, letting claimants know which pieces of evidence have been used to make a decision, and allowing individuals to review their report during the assessment.

We welcome this report and want to see Government act quickly to put these measures in place. However, it is clear that both the PIP assessment and Work Capability Assessment (WCA) for ESA are not fit for purpose and need urgent reform.

We want to see the PIP assessment replaced with an assessment that properly identifies the range and level of extra costs disabled people face.

We also want to see the Work Capability Assessment replaced with a new approach which recognises the full range of barriers that prevent disabled people entering and staying in work.

Reforming both of these assessments is crucial in ensuring disabled people are getting the right support – whether with disability-related costs or whilst out of work – and are able to live independently and participate fully in society.

What will we be doing next?

It’s vital our welfare system works for disabled people. Following the Government announcement on PIP and the Work and Pensions Select Committee report, we will be continuing to campaign for reform of both the PIP assessment and the WCA

If you have any concerns about your payments, you could contact Scope’s helpline for free for more information

Any new assessments need to be shaped by disabled people’s experiences. We want to hear about your experiences of applying for PIP and ESA. If you’d like to share your story, please comment below or email stories@scope.org.uk.

Why BBC Class Act is an exciting step forward for disabled actors

BBC Class Act is a nationwide development programme which aims to support and raise the profile of disabled actors. Last week, we were lucky enough to attend the launch party and talk to some of the talented people involved.

On Monday, we shared a blog about Silent Witness and how amazing it is to see better representation of disability on screens, as well as a variety of exciting roles for disabled actors. We want to see more of this, which is why we’re fully behind the new BBC Class Act programme.

Last August, the BBC launched a nationwide search for talented disabled actors. From over 350 audition tapes, 32 people were were selected to attend an intensive three day skills workshop led by BBC directors. The actors were given lessons in everything from audition and camera techniques to help with their show reels, with the aim of improving their chances of being cast in more roles. At the launch, Piers Wenger from the BBC said:

“I hope the talent you see encourages you to consider disabled talent for a manner of roles. It’s crucial that all of us in the industry work collectively to nurture and include disabled actors so that we can see increased representation on our screens.”

Carly Jones, one of the talented actors who took part, tells us why this is so important to her

Carly sat on the sofa with a union jack pillow

Before this, I’d accepted that acting wasn’t my destiny

Before I became an Autism advocate, I was an actor. Autistic people, like me, have what many professionals call “obsessions” and what the kindest professionals call “special interests”.  Mine was definitely acting.

Aged four, I would be gently placed behind the sofa every time I stood in front of my parents’ TV, wanting to be the performer. As soon as I could read, Teletext became my very first auto cue!

This led to being Mary in the school nativity, attending Ravenscourt Theatre school as a teen and eventually, becoming a frustrated actress in my 20s, snatching occasional talking parts in a sea of supporting roles.

Chasing this dream wasn’t compatible with a busy life as a divorced mother of three daughters, two of whom are also Autistic.  So I decided to put my “special interest” into a box.

It was hard. I always felt more comfortable on stage than I did in everyday situations because I knew what I was meant to say and was prepared for the reply. But I accepted that acting wasn’t my destiny and moved on.

Carly looking to the side, against a dark background
Carly had put aside her dream of acting, until she took part in BBC Class Act

When I saw the BBC Class Act advert, my instant thought was “Ah I wish this had been around when I was younger” and I got on with my routine, but kind friends kept nudging me and eventually I thought “Blow it, I’ll audition!”

When I had a quiet hour at home alone, I taped my audition and nervously posted it “unlisted” on my YouTube channel. I planned to remove it later and never think about it again, but by some twist of fate, I was chosen!

Disabled actress Carly wearing sunglasses and a top that says autistic girl power

The course felt like a celebration of diversity

On the first day, I was pleasantly surprised by how different we all were. There were actors with all sorts of different impairments. Also a large percentage of BBC staff and organisers were disabled – something which I naively didn’t expect.

We had three action packed days. We auditioned, did camera work, filmed our scenes and showcased our work to our directors. Surprisingly it was not half as terrifying as I expected! The subconscious worry that this was just a box ticking exercise was quashed – this event really showcased a genuine desire for change and a celebration of diversity.

Truly it was easy to forget that we were a group of ‘disabled actors’. The actors there were extremely talented and it was clear that this initiative was set up to support talented actors, who also happen to be disabled. Rather than “let’s get some disabled people and help them act”.

I am so grateful for the three days of total support, encouragement and confidence the BBC gave me. I’m excited to see where this progresses, not only for my own personal goals, but for disability representation in the media as a whole! And maybe, just maybe, my Autistic “special interest” happens to also be a talent.

If you’re a disabled actor and you’d like to share your experiences of working, you can get in touch with the stories team.

Why tonight’s Silent Witness story is just what the industry needs

Disabled people and their stories rarely appear on TV or in films. Then, when they do, non-disabled actors are often cast to play the roles. That’s why we’re so excited about the latest Silent Witness story which will be broadcast on BBC One tonight and tomorrow.

The story – One Day – is told across two episodes and tells the story of Toby and Serena who are both disabled. They’re played by actor Toby Sams-Friedman and Rosie Jones, a brilliant comedian in her first acting role.

The story is gripping and emotional and while it’s billed as a story about hate crime, it also shines a light on a variety of issues that disabled people face, not to mention the seeming lack of urgency when it comes to addressing those issues. It also features an incredible performance from Liz Carr, a regular on the show.

Our helpline team were consulted on the script and on Tuesday, we were lucky enough to attend a screening of the episodes at BAFTA. In the Question and Answers that followed, we heard from Tim Prager who wrote the episode and actor Liz Carr. Afterwards we also chatted to Rosie Jones, who plays Serena in the episodes. Here’s what they had to say.

Rosie Jones:

“I wanted to do it justice for all the disabled people in that situation”

I come from quite a higgledy-piggledy background because I actually started behind the camera working in comedy and entertainment. Then I decided to do stand-up comedy, and along with that comes acting. I went for this role and somehow with no acting experience, I got it! So yeah, it’s my first acting job but I really enjoyed it.

The story is incredible, it’s hard going and it tackled a lot of tough subjects. I was quite worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it justice. But actually, I wanted to do it justice for all the disabled people in that situation. It’s incredibly important to tell this story, we need to make people more aware. And it’s so important that disabled actors are playing the roles. You can get the best actors but they don’t know what it’s like to be disabled. I do and hopefully I bring something to the role.

A women stands in a doorway looking worried
Rosie Jones, as Serena, in the first episode of One Day

Tim Prager, writer: On hiring disabled actors

“Just do it”.

I’ve known Toby since he was a little boy, I’ve watched him grow up, so it was easy for me to write that character. I have a son with cerebral palsy so it was easy for me to write Serena. What I was hoping to do with it, is to demonstrate that there is a place for all of us. That’s it.

There needs to be a will to tell stories about all sorts of people. Liz has been on the show for 6 years. The critical issue for me was that she was in it and she was a regular in it. There will always be a disabled character, whether [the story] is about disability or not. We’ll just put them in it because they can do other jobs.

[As a writer already in the industry], I’ve laid down the gauntlet and said I’ll work with disabled writers and bring them up to a technical skill level that makes them available to work on mainstream shows. And that’s what needs to happen, we need to get to a place where [all] people write all the shows that people watch.

It comes down to people saying, okay enough, let’s do it, let’s do it now.

Liz Carr, who plays Clarissa in the series:

“You’ve got the right people telling the story for a change”

It was so important [to do this story] because I don’t think that, other than on something like Panorama, I don’t know that we’ve seen some of these things on TV before.

These episodes are expressed as being about disability hate crime and really, they’re about the value we place on another human being.

Tim, comes at it from a place of experience as do we, as disabled actors. When we say ‘we should have better representation on TV’ it gets a bit boring – these episodes show why. And you’ve got the right people telling the story for a change.

There are lots of disabled people, people who championed this kind of episode and it’s a celebration. I guess the issue is, there’s so much to be done and we want it done now, I’m so impatient. Disabled actors have got to get more experience so we get there.

The performances across the board in this episode are stunning. The more we do it, the more people who work with us realise that this isn’t so bad.

Silent Witness One Day will be on BBC One at 9pm tonight – Monday 29 January – and tomorrow.