'Another form of erasure': Barriers faced by disabled and minority groups working in TV

ITV News Reporter Sejal Karia heard from some of those who have broken through the barriers, and want more to be able to do the same

Ade Adepitan is perhaps the best known black and disabled television presenter and athlete.

But his appearances in front of the camera seem to be the exception to the rule.

New findings shared exclusively with ITV News appear to show that being an ethnic minority and having a disability is one the greatest barriers to being on television, with campaigners arguing that TV is failing to represent the whole of society.

Broadcaster Shani Dhanda has just been voted the most influential person with a disability in the country.

Broadcaster Ade Adepitan. Credit: PA

She told ITV News: "It's a really lonely and isolating experience, especially when you're already fighting and up against so many other barriers and challenges when you live in a world that just isn't designed for you.

"It's another form of erasure when you don't see yourself in society. If you don't see others like you, it's very hard to envision what you can do and what you can be. I didn't have that."

She added that stigma and stereotypes dominate the small screen, regarding portrayals of people with disabilities, when TV producers should, in fact, tap into talent.

New research by the disability equality charity, Scope, shows 43% of the British public think there should be more black, Asian or minority ethnic people with disabilities in prominent roles on TV or through streaming services.

Shani Dhanda said barriers to TV presenting can create a 'really lonely and isolating experience'. Credit: ITV News

But the results also showed that just one-in-ten respondents have seen a person with a disability who was Black, Asian or minority ethnic just once in the last 12 months on TV.

A quarter, meanwhile, said they have barely seen any individual with disabilities and of an ethnic minority on screens at all.

Comedian and model Fats Timbo has almost three million followers on TikTok. She told ITV News that TV companies do not simply reflect society but also help shape it.

"A lot of people laugh at me, a lot of people film me, a lot of people just take the mick out of me because of what they've seen on TV," she said.

'I think TV has the power to change people's perceptions and the stigma behind disabilities,' Fats Timbo told ITV News

"And I really, really want to campaign against this and make people think that little people are just little.

"That's about it. I'm just as human as everyone else."

According to one inclusive talent agent, the lack of disability representation on TV doesn't just come down to attitudes, but also money.

Sarah Leigh told ITV News that some companies have opted to re-cast actors with disabilities that she represents due to the added cost of providing equal access for them

Sarah Leigh revealed that some of her clients had been recast after productions refused to pay accessibility costs. 

"It really frustrates me and I think it's disgusting," she said.

"I am neurodivergent disabled myself. My son is disabled, and I feel that, you know, we face so many barriers in society."

Advocates argue there is a glaring gap in representation, and that it should not just be about the stories that TV companies tell, but also who they employ to tell them.

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