Tag Archives: hate crime

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. 

How it feels to experience endless harassment, just because you look different

Chris has dwarfism and experiences regular harassment. For Hate Crime Awareness Week, read his blog about the effect this had on him and why he’s keen to change attitudes.

A lot of people still think it’s socially acceptable to mock and effectively dehumanise people with dwarfism. For me, the physical side doesn’t get me down, it’s the attitudes that other people have towards it. There’s still a big stigma around dwarfism and the way we’re portrayed as freaks.

Experiencing harassment at work

I worked at a local pub for a few years. At first, I mostly did night shifts and of course people are drinking, and I was specifically targeted. I’ve had people run up behind me and try to pick me up, people patting me on the head, talking to me randomly about really personal and inappropriate things. People even take photos or film me, purely just to portray me as being different.

It got to a point where I had a breakdown and told my family and my managers at work about it. They were very understanding and agreed that I should do more day shifts instead. It’s a lot better. It’s nice to be able to just get on with your job without constantly feeling paranoid.

Chris arms folded, in front of a garden

The effect of endless harassment

Endless harassment can create paranoia. You just constantly feel paranoid if there’s someone behind you or if someone’s got their phone out, are they going to take a photo of me? And it’s the principle behind it – that they’re going to share it on social media as a joke.

Because I’ve been experiencing it for a long time it can be difficult when I’m in certain environments not to be too self-conscious. For some people, it can lead to depression and even suicide.

Comments and insults can be more damaging than physical assault, certainly for me – it’s just that concept of feeling excluded from society. It also affects my confidence when it comes to working and dating.

Changing attitudes

Through animation, I re-created some of the worst things that I’ve personally experienced. I hope it will raise awareness and change perceptions. I want to put this kind of harassment on the same grounds of nonacceptance that racism is.

I also want to challenge the dehumanising ideas about what disabled people shouldn’t and shouldn’t do. I think education is key to changing attitudes. One day I hope I can walk down the street and nobody cares about my height.

If you have a story that you’d like to share, get in touch with Scope’s stories team.

Have you been on the end of scrounger abuse?

It’s now almost a year since the Paralympics started and we’ve been asking disabled people and their families if they feel the games made a difference to their day-to-day lives.  
There’ll be a lot of discussion next week about legacy. Scope is going to be urging journalists and the Government to listen to disabled people’s views.

One issue that keeps coming up is “benefits scrounger rhetoric”, and how this leads to people being abused in the street and being trolled online.

We asked on Twitter and Facebook for people to share their own experiences:

Bullying and abuse

Some people responded with shocking stories of unprovoked verbal and physical abuse:

“Just the other night one twitter account dedicated to highlighting the abuse of blue badge bays has decided to shut down because of the abuse it gets. One of my friends is seeking a judicial review and they tried to use his twitter use against him. I have a specific troll who tells me I am just lazy, I could work if i tried and so on. Any time there is a documentary style TV programme featuring sick or disabled people it stirs up a lot of abuse and general ignorance.” – Ema via email

“I’m leaning on my crutches by the broccoli when a lady in her late 50s walks up behind me shoves me hard into the broccoli box – face first – and calls me a disability scrounging unrepeatable in front of my children. My most embarrassing moment.” – Tinna on Facebook

“Someone walked into the back of my wheelchair whilst in supermarket queue, which apparently is my fault as “your sort shouldn’t be cluttering up the shops”.” – Teddy on Facebook

And it’s not just from strangers:

“I’ve had ‘friends’ explain how I just have to accept and expect romantic rejection because disability is ugly.” – NQ videos on Twitter

“I was told by a ‘friend’ that I shouldn’t be allowed a mobility car for my wheelchair using son with CP.”  – Naomi on Twitter

Hidden disability

Many people spoke about the problem of impairments that aren’t immediately obvious:

“I was once accused of stealing a disabled persons bus pass. It had my name and my photo on.  I am partially sighted. You can’t see the damage I have to my optic nerves, nor how much I can really see….I’ve had someone tell me I shouldn’t be on DLA because there’s nothing wrong with me. I don’t feel the need to broadcast every single medical problem I have.” – Sofie on Facebook

“People seem to think that ‘disability’ means a missing leg, or using a wheelchair/crutches; it can be, but sometimes a disability affects people more subtly and they still need assistance.” – Caitlin on Facebook

“I have epilepsy and hold a bus pass because of it – I’ve had some dirty looks off people for using it in the past.” – Kath on Facebook

Unashamed and fighting back

Some disabled people told us that they refuse to be ashamed of the money they receive and are fighting back at the bullies:

“I’m not ashamed of having claimed out of work benefits and I refuse to be ashamed of my DLA.” – Natalya on Facebook

“If anyone abuses me they get far worse back. I am sick and tired of being abused because of something that is no fault of my own. I will not be bullied or abused by people who believe the rhetoric” – Ian on Facebook

Parents told us that they didn’t care what people thought – the well-being of their children comes first:

“I have a two year old with CP. There would be no way I could take him to his physio without the extra help we get through DLA. If that makes me a beggar then so be it. I really don’t care as long as my son gets the best possible care and start in life !” – Darren on Facebook

“My daughter has CP. I listen to people going on about benefits and get fed up with listening to the constant moaning. I only want what is best for her and for those that do complain about disabled – stop and think – how would they feel if it was them?”  – Val on Facebook

Whilst some parents are taking more extreme measures!

“My son has severe CP. Rules we are working on when he is in his electric chair are

  1. If someone stares, smile at them – if they still stare, run them over.
  2. Three “excuse me”s from Mum and Dad and if they still wont shift – run them over.
  3. Three honks on his horn then …… yup, run them over” – Wag on Facebook

Does he take sugar with his tea?

Paul Jenkins

Paul Jenkins is a public speaker with cerebral palsy. He works to change society’s attitudes to disabled people.

Paul grew up in large institutions where it was hard to feel independent. In 1996, he moved to his own home in Milton Keynes, which he describes as a big step in gaining independence: “It was the first time I’d had my own front door,” says Paul. “That was the best feeling.”

A few years ago, Paul was a victim of hate crime. One day in his home town he was approached by two people who asked the time, then took his helmet and stole his bag and £100. Paul feels certain they targeted him because he is disabled. “I didn’t know what to do, I felt so angry and upset.”

Sharing experiences of disability

Feeling frustrated, yet inspired to talk about his life and share his experiences, Paul decided to put together a presentation. “I had all these thoughts in my head that I wanted to get out. My aim was to give people an insight into my personality and teach them about disability,” he says.

He started by taking his presentations to local schools. “At first I was really nervous. I just remember a lot of kids looking at me! But slowly I began to get used to it.”

Paul produced more presentations and now gives his talks to people in Scope too. He trains new staff when they arrive, helping them understand how to work with disabled people. He also sits in on interviews to help recruit new staff. “Scope involves disabled people and listens to us,” he says. “We have been shut away from society for too long.”

Disability trainers in every service

Paul now works with Karen Fairbrother, our service manager in Milton Keynes, to help other disabled people give talks about their lives and raise awareness of disability. His vision for the future is to have a trained speaker in every Scope service.

For Paul, it’s about giving people the opportunity to ask questions about disability and break down the barriers which exist in society. “All the feedback so far has been really positive,” he says. “I feel like the work I’m doing is making a difference.”

The one thing Paul stresses time and time again is to talk to disabled people directly. “Don’t look at someone I’m with and ask if I want sugar in my tea; ask me! There is a tendency for people to treat me like I am a child, like I don’t have opinions. I know many other disabled people feel like this too.”

Paul says becoming a public speaker has given him a renewed sense of purpose. “Afterwards I feel like I’m on an up, it’s a real rush! My ultimate goal is to change society’s attitudes to disabled people. It is my hope that, one day, disabled people will be treated equally. I don’t think that day is too far away.”