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Jack Thorne, Genevieve Barr Launch Underlying Health Condition Group

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Writer Jack Thorne (“His Dark Materials”) today launched the pressure group Underlying Health Conditions (UHC) alongside “The Silence” star Genevieve Barr, production manager Katie Player (“Churchill) and producer Holly Luban.

To coincide with the launch, which took place at the Tate Gallery in London on International Day of Disabled Persons, the group also published a damning report into accessibility – or lack thereof – for disabled professionals both in front of and behind the camera.

Among the findings in the report, which was based on surveys completed over the past six months by people working for or on behalf of studios and facilities companies, were that:

  • There is only one facilities company in the whole of the U.K. (that responded) with an accessible toilet facility – meaning that only one production in the U.K. taking place at any time can provide disabled professionals with access to a toilet;
  • 78.8% of U.K. studios don’t have a hazard warning surface at the top of stairwells to prevent the blind or visually impaired from injuring;
  • 90.9% of studios do not have tactile buttons, signs or maps to allow people to navigate spaces independently.

The report was authored by UTC with contributions from campaign groups DANC, CDN, DDPTV and US-based 1in4 Coalition, an intersectional coalition of disabled creatives currently working in Hollywood.

Staggeringly, only 45.85% of those contacted by UHC responded to the survey despite multiple attempts to engage with them.

As well as highlighting the challenges and lack of access for disabled professionals in the industry, the report makes four recommendations:

  • All high end TV productions should have an accessibility coordinator on set whose role will be to be across and deal with any reasonable adjustments that need to be made for the cast and crew;
  • All high end TV budgets should include an additional line to cover general reasonable adjustments that can make productions more accessible whether on sets, locations, unit bases or offices (UHC suggests a sum of £5,000 ($6,600) applied on a sliding scale for smaller productions);
  • The establishment of a one-off fund to enable facilities companies and studio spaces to ensure their equipment (such as honey wagons and trailers) and buildings can accommodate disabled people e.g. with build disabled toilets, quiet rooms, install ramps and purchase clear signage;
  • Introduce a levy of 0.1% (in addition to the 0.5% budged for that goes towards the High End TV Skills Fund) to create a disabled freelancers fund enabling disabled professionals to access financial support to equipment and reasonable adjustments they require without it falling to the production.

Attending the launch and the report’s presentation at the Tate were TV executives, representatives from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, and over 100 disabled professionals working in the screen industry.

The creation of the UTC was first announced by Thorne in his MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival in August, which galvanized a conversation about disability access within the industry.

The UTC subscribes to the ‘social model of disability’ which points out that disabled people are disabled by the society around them and its architecture – for example via la ack of ramps, closed captions, signage or accessible toilet facilities – and not by their impairments.

In a statement, Thorne, Barr, Player and Lubran said:

“Disabled people make up 20% of this population, and yet the Creative Diversity Network found that disabled people are under-represented at all organisational levels, making up just 7% of television employees overall; 8.2% of on-screen representation, 5.4% of people who work off screen, and at the top, just 3.6% of Executive Producers, are disabled. The deficit in those statistics are felt and translated through the television box – to those sitting in front of it. One of the major factors to this lack of representation is the dire state in which we find ourselves in our basic working conditions. Not having a safe space to work, nor the facilities needed to carry out our creative roles, down to the nitty gritty of not even having the most basic of human rights, an accessible toilet!”

“One of the biggest findings from both surveys is that disabled access is simply not thought about; it is not planned for or integrated into the structure and design of our spaces and that has got to change.”

“In 2018, the Creative Diversity Network, in partnership with all major UK broadcasters, announced to set a target of doubling disability representation in front and behind the camera from 4.5% to 9% by 2021. In 2020 that growth was only 0.9% and that is simply not enough to make representation truly proportional. In fact, according to the CDN, it will take until 2041, at the current rate of growth, for disability in off-screen roles to truly reflect the make-up of the UK. We cannot wait that long.”

“The Social Model states that disabled people are not disabled by their impairments but rather by the attitude and geography of the society in which they live. It is society itself that’s disabling, when it makes transport impossible to share, when it shows little flexibility in the workplace, when it is built around the needs of certain people rather than the needs of all.”

“The results of the survey aside, this is not a campaign made in anger but in hope. This is about providing a blueprint for meaningful change; we have four key recommendations to which we want all industry leaders to pledge to support and actually ensure are met, in order to provide a working experience that so many just take for granted.”

UHC also added that: “The campaign to change the status of disabled people in this industry has been long and hard fought. Our movement follows in the footsteps of, and holds hands with, our allies, long running disabled groups such as DANC, DDPTV, CDN, thinkBIGGER, 1 in 4 Coalition in the US, and more. Our proposals have been informed by conversations with these groups, the broadcasters and SVODs.”

Tobi is a reserved individual, loves making friends and a top-notch web developer. Currently, he's working as a freelancer for cmatrends.com

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