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A pair of reports into disability in TV have laid bare the structural and attitudinal barriers that are holding back the industry from being inclusive, particularly among freelancers and at senior levels of production.

The CDN’s Employing the Change-Makers report into Doubling Disability found that disabled representation among executive producers stands at just 3.6% - the lowest of any producer level. Overall, disabled people held 4.6% of senior roles compared with 5.8% at a junior level.

Production executive is the only role that met the 9% Doubling Disability target last year, the report states, followed by head of production (6.9%).

Authors Marie Tidball and Catherine Bunting call for industry targets for the promotion of disabled people into senior roles and for the sector to find ways of funding future leadership programmes.

Freelancers contributing to the study said they felt held back by a reluctance from broadcasters and indies to make the extra effort to employ and support disabled people if they are not full-time.

Almost 80% said their career progression was stalled by management’s poor understanding of disability and discriminatory views about disabled people, while half identified “false assumptions about disabled people’s work” as a barrier.

As for all workers, the pandemic impacted heavily on employment levels, but the report found one silver lining of the past 18 months: home working has proved something of a leveller, with 73% of disabled workers stating that they were more or as productive at home as they can take more breaks and avoid the stresses associated with commuting.

Separately, Disability by Design, a survey of 200 people commissioned by campaign group Deaf and Disabled People in TV, found that almost 60% had experienced ableism of discrimination in the workplace, with respondents identifying assumptions based on their conditions and impairment as an issue.

Almost half had faced ableist language and microaggressions and around a quarter reported being bullied or harassed.

Accusing employers for being “blithely disengaged” from their responsibilities and identifying a “fundamental lack of understanding at the top”, the report calls for mandatory training for all employers, and for all broadcasters to have dedicated disabled diversity and inclusion exec and to commit to upskill mid- to senior-level talent.

More than a third said employers had failed to ask about their access needs, with some wheelchair arriving at offices where they had to climb stairs, and others struggled with toilets being long distances away.

The report said the TV industry should strive to follow the government’s Access to Work scheme, which provides support to employers for people with physical and mental health issues.

The findings come ahead of the Paralympic Games, which come to Channel 4 next month with a sizeable disabled presenting team.

The broadcaster has also recommissioned Mission: Accessible, a travelogue in which comedian Rosie Jones and guests explore accessible tourist destinations around the UK.

Producer Rockerdale Studios said half of the production team on the show are disabled. The three-part short-form series, made in partnership with Visit Britain, airs on C4’s social media platforms before they are added to the All4 platform.

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