UK viewers for more visibility of disabled people on TV

LONDON: Television viewers show a high degree of acceptance of disabled people on screen, with 79 per cent saying they would not mind if a disabled person read the main evening news bulletin, The findings are contained in a new research Disabling Prejudice which was commissioned by the BBC, the Broadcasting Standards Commission (BSC) and Independent Television Commission (ITC).


The report also notes that broadcasters appear more cautious, concerned with perceived audience prejudices, ratings and other possible constraints.

The majority of viewers (61 per cent) say that there should be more portrayals of disabled people on television in a wide variety of roles, including as presenters. The inclusion of disabled people in television advertising was also welcomed, particularly where it challenges negative stereotypes or actively promotes positive images of disabled people.


The report examines attitudes towards disability, and the representation of disability on television, by both disabled and non-disabled viewers, and by broadcasting industry professionals.


ITC chief executive, Patricia Hodgson said: "The feedback we have had from viewers and from industry professionals in this project sheds some very useful light on their different expectations about disability."


"It is understandable that broadcasters are sensitive about involving disabled people in programmes, both on and off screen, but this should not be an excuse to shy away from properly representing society," Hodgson added.


The report notes that television is seen as a particularly powerful medium, so accuracy of portrayals is considered vital, as is the need for television to offer positive role models to young disabled people, and the avoidance of negative stereotypes (including well-intentioned emphasis on the "bravery" of a disabled person).


Among some non-disabled viewers there remained barriers to acceptance of more prominence of disabled people on screen. These viewers were less comfortable watching people whom they perceived to be "different". Some industry professionals also thought that viewers expected actors and presenters to be traditionally good looking, and had concerns over how audiences might respond to more "severely" disabled actors or presenters.


The research identified several factors that would increase the likelihood of on-screen portrayals being widely accepted by these kinds of viewers: They include:


* Matching - This means demonstrating that "you are like me". Portrayals should go beyond disability to focus on the disabled person as being, in most respects, just like everyone else

* Likeability - Broadcasters should aim at creating emotional connections with viewers through shared qualities, for example, a presenter with an engaging personality or sense of humour;

* Celebrity - using a famous actor to play a disabled role. This was recognised as an effective way of attracting attention to a programme, and there was support for this approach from the majority of viewers, given the desire to raise awareness and increase the number of variety of portrayals - as long as the resulting portrayals are accurate.

* Incidental inclusion - This refers to involving disabled people at all levels of programming and production, and featuring disabled characters or presenters where their disability was not the reason for their inclusion or central to the storyline.

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