Tag Archives: representation

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. 

Meet the campaigners and storytellers making equality for disabled people a reality

Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). The theme this year is “Transformation towards a sustainable and resilient society for all” and the UN agenda pledges to “leave no one behind”. But far too often, disabled people are left behind and it doesn’t feel like our society really is working for all.

Scope’s new strategy is focused on everyday equality but we can’t do it alone – it requires a collective effort of everyone working together. On IDPD, we’re highlighting some of the amazing campaigners and storytellers we’ve been working with this year.

Shani is tackling extra costs

From expensive equipment to higher energy bills, disabled people and their families pay more for everyday essentials. Support to meet these costs, such as Personal Independent Payments, often falls short. When you face so many extra costs, it can stop you from being able to go out and do things like everyone else.

Shani smiling, stood on a cobbled street

That’s why Shani launched the Diversability Card – a discount card for disabled people. As well as helping to alleviate some of the financial pressure, it also aims to be a catalyst for change by raising awareness of the value of disabled consumers. Find out more about extra costs and the Diversability Card on the website.

Will is campaigning to make public places accessible

Last year, Will made a short film to highlight the poor disabled access found up and down our high streets. As a wheelchair user,  he wanted to demonstrate how frustrating this is from his everyday perspective. He also wanted to draw attention to the fact that businesses are losing multiple paying customers.

The film went viral and thousands of people signed his petition. Alongside his job as a games developer, Will has continued campaign on accessibility – attending events in Parliament and speaking on TV. Read more about Will’s campaigning in this blog.

Christie is raising awareness to change negative attitudes

Christie’s daughter Elise is a happy, smiley two year old girl who has cerebral palsy. Elise has a bright future ahead of her because Christie is determined to overcome any barriers they face. Barriers like negative attitudes, expensive equipment and inaccessible playgrounds.

Christie is a Scope storyteller and local campaigner and she also shares their journey through her page ‘Elise Smashed It’. She hopes that by raising awareness she will educate people, create change and help other parents and children with cerebral palsy.  Find out more about Christie and Elise’s achievements on their Facebook page.

Dan and Emily are tackling the lack of disabled characters

When Dan’s daughter Emily asked why there weren’t any wheelchair users on TV, he knew that something had to change. A wheelchair user herself, Emily always wanted to find characters and people that she could relate to, but they were so hard to find.

Dan, an author holding up his comic book, poses with his daughter Emily who uses a wheelchair

Together, they created The Department of Ability comic book, featuring a cast of superheroes whose impairments are their greatest superpower – and Emily has a staring role! Read more about Dan and Emily’s adventures in their blog.

Carly is making sure autistic women and girls are safe and supported

Carly is an Autism advocate and speaker. She wasn’t diagnosed with autism until she was 32, after years without support, feeling “like a second class normal person” and being told that “autism only happens to boys”. When two of her daughters were diagnosed, she noticed a huge lack of understanding when it came to autism and girls, and she’s been working to change that ever since.

Carly wearing sunglasses and a top that says autistic girl power

From her own experiences, Carly knows that there are serious consequences to not being diagnosed and she has dedicated her life to making sure women and girls are protected and supported.

As well as speaking and networking, Carly has been to the UN to ensure the rights of autistic women and girls are protected and she created a free online safeguarding course. She’s also passionate about changing attitudes towards autism and runs  events for autistic children, where they can invite anyone they like. Find out more about Carly’s story on her website. You can also buy Carly’s book about autism and girls.

If you want to get involved in campaigns or storytelling, get in touch with the stories team. You can also find out more about our current campaigns on our website.

Why businesses need to think about disabled consumers

Will Pike is a games developer from London whose parody of Channel 4’s Superhumans advert went viral last year. Tens of thousands of people have signed his petition for better access. In this blog, he talks about how this affects disabled consumers, and what needs to change in media representation.

Back in September 2016, I made a short film to highlight the poor disabled access found up and down our high streets. As a wheelchair user, I wanted to demonstrate how frustrating these obstructions are from my everyday perspective. I also wanted to demonstrate that establishments are missing out. By not being accessible, they’re losing multiple paying customers. Regardless of the fact that I can’t walk or overcome a set of stairs without assistance, I still have money in pocket to spend.

The ‘Purple Pound’ is worth in the region of £240 billion. This spending power is exactly why society should be a more opportune place for everyone. Why are so many businesses unable to recognise this?

We need to see more disabled people in mainstream media

Whilst accessibility is fundamental, it’s no good just making a bunch of logistical improvements if attitudes to disability don’t change. I’m not simply talking about seeing disabled people as an untapped purple cash-cow. I want society to see the purple person behind the purple pound. It’s so important that disabled people are given a more prominent place in mainstream media, where they can contribute to reversing poor public perception and ignorance.

Will in his wheelchair outside a restaurant where there's a step
Man in a wheelchair unable to access a restaurant

Fundamentally, this is the reason why diversity is so important. If we only have a monosyllabic representation of society displayed upon our TV screens, then we’ll continue to limit the prospects of anybody who doesn’t conform to a notion of the perceived norm. We must challenge this. It obviously goes beyond disability to include race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation and age. It also means evolving our perceptions of beauty and happiness. For instance, in the film ‘Me Before You’, the main character is a quadriplegic chap called Will, who ultimately concedes that life with a disability, even with love and financial stability, is so miserable that he must end it all. What kind of message does this send out to the world? For those with a disability it’s insulting and heartless. While for those without a disability it simply reaffirms the (misplaced) need for pity.

Change is happening, but we need more

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Change is happening, but society needs to do more than the bare minimum. We need to see more disabled people on telly, while ensuring that the inclusion of disability isn’t a token gesture toward equality. There also needs to be a comprehensive strategy to improve the quality of life for all disabled people, positioning us as simply part of the normal spectrum of human experience. Only then will society truly benefit from the Purple Pound.

At present only 2.5% of all characters on TV screens are disabled. It’s hardly surprising then that 81% of the 13 million disabled people in the UK do not feel they are well-represented on TV and in the media. This has to change. It’s time for businesses to recognise the value of the purple pound and put more disabled people at the heart of their campaigns.

Will supports Scope with our mission to drive everyday equality, so that disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. Visit our website to find out more about our work and how you can support us.

Read more blogs on the power of disabled consumers.

Why is it so hard to find books with a disabled character?

Dan White is the author of the brilliant The Department of Ability comic book, featuring a cast of superheroes whose impairments are their greatest superpower.

For World Book Day, Dan tells us how he was inspired to create the comic book and why there needs to be more disabled characters in literature.

My book-devouring, art loving daughter, Emily, had stopped anticipating reading about disabled characters in her comics or literature.  For her, that day would never appear. Or would it?

It was the disparaging look I saw on her face when she first learnt to read that set me on a course of action.  Art, writing and comics are my second love, and that drove me to create the group of disabled superheroes that is The Department of Ability – a graphic novel with a difference, launching later this year!

Disability isn’t the main focus – they’re battling to save the world

I wanted to draw disability in a way that was not really about the disability. Yes, the five characters in he Department of Ability show physical differences, but there’s no backstory, no preface on disability and how it affects this motley crew, you just get 5 different SUPERHEROES battling to save the world in a final war between good and evil.

The Department of Ability are colourful, strong and fun! A ghost? Alien? A Dog? A Cheetah? Emily? How’s that for diverse!?

Several of the characters designed for Department of Ability comic strip
The characters from The Department of Ability comic strip

The Department of Ability has captured hearts worldwide even before the first volume is published. But it’s not just disabled hearts, it’s hearts from everywhere. From the warmth of Matthew Wright, to the voice of The Today Show USA, to the desk of comic genius Stan Lee, the belief and enthusiasm of established comic writer Leah Moore (daughter of Alan) and the tireless work of Scope, all who have seen and loved my creations see a future of change.

There’s a growing desire worldwide to see more diversity and essential inclusion. It’s a strong a message to those in charge of what we read and watch, telling them, “we love difference, and want to see more of it. We all have a right to be heard”.

Inclusion is vital, especially for children

Currently, this world seems to be run by people terrified of accepting disability into the media they enjoy but inclusion is vital, especially for children. They need and want to see images that reflect themselves, otherwise we’re going to have another generation growing up being seen solely as needy and marginalised.  Who wants that?

I read and review many books on disability but they are incredibly rare and it makes you wonder how much more could be achieved if the industry threw caution to the wind and realised the good they could attain by giving us everyday, non-static, non-stereotypical characters.

Inclusion means include, and that means all. It will dispel myths, preconceptions, and will inspire the reader to discuss disability in a whole new light, barriers will fall and disability will not be seen as the last to the party.

A young girl holding up her drawing of her superhero, a mermaid with a wheelchair

I hope The Department of Ability will kick open a door for more diverse stories

All the talents that blossom and bubble in this amazing community will finally be able to show itself to the wider world, it just needs a thinker outside the box to see there is no barrier, and to see the power and might of the untapped purple pound, all £249 disposable billions of it.

2017 is the year of Department of Ability BOOK One, and it will hopefully kick open a door for an army of stories, pictures and talent to emerge.  The authors are there, the future is there, let it in. The Department of Ability are loud, brash, dysfunctional, passionate and determined, a bit like everyone else on earth really.

For National Storytelling Week, we asked for better representation of disability in literature. Read about the activities we’ve done so far and please help us spread the message.

Visit the Department of Ability website to read the comic strips and keep up-to-date with the launch.

For National Storytelling Week – help us champion books that feature disability

Here at Scope, stories are central to everything we do. For National Storytelling Week we’re taking the opportunity to celebrate authentic stories and calling on publishers and authors to improve the representation of disability in literature. Read on to find out about all our activities so far and what we plan to do next.

Why tell stories?

Great stories have the power to connect us, to raise awareness, to make people feel and act. They’re at the heart of everything we do at Scope and they have a huge role to play in achieving social change. Few people are moved by statistics or facts, but when you hear someone’s personal story it can have a powerful impact.

Stories tell us things we didn’t know before; they show us other ways of living, other experiences, other views on the world. They can also make us feel less alone by showing us people like us and stories like ours – happy ending or not.

Telling authentic stories

At Scope, every story is told by the storyteller themselves – we’re just the ‘caretakers’, if you like. Although we interview people about their experiences, the stories we share are always in first person and completely in the storyteller’s own words. And they always have the final say – we never interview and run! We hope this builds trust and shows just how much we value them.

We work with storytellers to share their stories in lots of different ways. This could be anything from a policy report – using real experiences to bring our influencing to life, at events, in fundraising materials, in films and, very often, on Scope’s blog.

We’re really proud of the way we tell stories at Scope. Putting storytellers in charge means we only ever tell authentic stories. We give people a platform to share their diverse experiences and show a more accurate picture of disability. Often, opportunities for people to share their stories are lacking – disability isn’t a huge focus in the media and when it is, it’s often the negative side that you see. We want to make sure that people can tell the story that they want to tell.

Which brings us on to National Storytelling Week.

Dan, an author holding up his comic book, poses with his daughter Emily who uses a wheelchair
Dan and Emily White – creators of Department of Ability

People want to see better representation of disability in literature

In the stories team we’re privileged to hear about a range of experiences in our day to day work. Unfortunately, for most people, their chance to read stories about disability are limited. If you think back to the books you enjoyed as a child, or even as an adult, you’d be hard pushed to find many featuring a disabled person. As a result, lots of people either don’t know much about disability or they only know the limited (sometimes misleading) view that they’re presented with.

This contributes to poor attitudes and stereotypes which can affect disabled people’s lives in number of ways. Another downside is that disabled people don’t get to read about stories and characters they can relate to.

We ran a Twitter poll which showed that 3 in 4 people want to see more inclusion of disability in literature

So, for National Storytelling Week, we ran lots of activities to campaign for better representation of disability in literature, and celebrated some great work that we want to see more of. 

We ran a comic book workshop with Dan White, creator of Department of Ability. Dan was inspired to create the comic book when his 11-year-old daughter Emily wondered why there were no wheelchair users like her on TV. Dan then set out to create a comic book where Emily would lead a group of superheroes whose impairments, far from holding them back, are actually their superpowers. To watch a film about the comic book workshop, head to our YouTube channel.

Following the workshop, we posted each superhero creation on Facebook and ran  a competition – with the winner getting to see their superhero turned into a guest in the next Department of Ability comic book. Here’s a short film of the winner, Daisy, explaining her superhero design.

We also partnered with the Huffington Post to share a blog each day from different storytellers. Incase you missed some of the content you can catch up here:

“Books Hold A Special Place In My Heart – I Just Wish They’d Have A Place For Me” – Heather’s blog

“The World Needs More Disabled Superheroes” – Dan and Emily’s vlog

“I Don’t Want To Read Books That Treat Disability As A Tragedy” – Anne’s blog

“It’s Immensely Important For Disabled People To See Positive Portrayals Of Themselves In Literature” – Asim’s blog

“Hey JK, Why Wasn’t Harry Potter Disabled?” – Phil’s blog

Following that, we partnered with Books on the Underground to do a ‘book drop’ where we hid 30 copies of Quentin Blake’s ‘The Five of Us’ around accessible tube stations. We had lots of engagement on our social media channels and our campaign was featured on Books on the Underground and on Quentin Blake’s website which was an amazing way to share our message with new audiences.

Our next step is to reach out to publishers and authors to ask them to improve their representation of disability in future books. We will keep you updated once we hear more. – so stay tuned!

To find out more about stories at Scope, head to our Stories Hub and please get involved.