Why it is important to see people with disabilities represented in all walks of life
With Kadeena Cox attending I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! and Rose Ayling-Ellis on Strictly Come Dancing, the portrayal of people with disabilities on television seems to be having a moment.
For Mark Hodgkinson, CEO of Scope, an equality charity for people with disabilities, this is extremely important. “We all need role models when we grow up, when we aspire to do new things,” he explains. “If you don’t see someone like you in the places you aspire to be, then that creates quite a challenge. It’s pretty hard to be a disabled person anyway. It’s important to see someone you can relate to on TV, but the performance doesn’t end there – it could have a huge impact on a person with a disability in the workplace as well.
Not seeing other people with disabilities – especially in more senior positions – could be difficult for your “resilience levels,” suggests Hodgkinson. Basically it “makes people believe that there are people like them in the places they want to be” – something he says is “really, really important”.
In the media… Hodgkinson suggests that the portrayal of people with disabilities in the media is improving. “We have some high profile TV shows that are starting to show what’s possible,” he says. “You’ve got I’m a Celebrity… having Kadeena Cox, a Paralympian, on the show. I think it was great that she said – before agreeing to do so – that they should make adjustments so that she could compete actively and fully and alongside the other competitors as well. He also mentions Ayling-Ellis, a deaf candidate for Strictly Come Dancing. For one dance, the music was cut briefly, to show the audience their point of view – something Hodgkinson notes was “a really powerful moment,” backed up by the fact that it also earned them the Must-See TV Moment award. the year of Heat magazine.
That being said, there is still a long way to go. “Only 8.2% of characters on television have been played by people with disabilities,” Hodgkinson says, citing statistics from Diamond’s The Fourth Cut report. “Behind the screen, it’s even worse at 5.8%. There is one in five disabled people in the country … So there are still big differences in these figures. In the workplace… It’s not just about seeing people like you on TV and in the movies, but also in the workplace, especially in positions you might aspire to.
“In fact, there aren’t a lot of truly senior leaders who are people with disabilities,” Hodgkinson says. “Where those role models exist, and where there are more and more role models in the future, it gives you (when you are at the start of your career in particular) the confidence to keep fighting through some of the obstacles you face. “While Hodgkinson suggests that there are ‘a lot of other things that also need to change’, having more people with disabilities in senior roles could be extremely empowering and give others ‘the confidence to start fighting’ for. the positions they want.
For Hodgkinson, much of positive change in the workplace relies on attitudes and organizations “getting ready to go,” he says. “When you feel uncomfortable or uncertain about something, the easiest approach is probably to take a step back. Thus, companies believe that it will be much easier to recruit an able-bodied person than a disabled person. Basically, they think the people with disabilities they go to see are less skilled and have fewer skills than people without disabilities – which in fact tends to be the opposite. Because people with disabilities had to fight so hard to get on these lists [to be shortlisted for an interview], they are in fact often better qualified for the role. Ultimately, Hodgkinson suggests that workplace diversification is good for everyone. “Various organizations have been proven to have better cultures,” he says. “And I think more inclusive workplaces tend to have happier employees.”