Peterborough unlimited: ‘Representation isn’t as it should be’

Campaigner Julie Fernandez writes about issues facing the disabled community in Peterborough...

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 16th January 2022, 12:15 pm
Campaigner Julie Fernandez.
Campaigner Julie Fernandez.

Happy New Year to you all.

In my last column I mentioned that I was going to London on December 3 to attend an event at The Tate.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it in person, but it is something I would like to open a discussion about with you all.

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The event was organised and hosted by the screenwriter and playwright Jack Thorne, who is known for writing many amazing TV shows and films including His Dark Materials.

What you may not know is that Jack has a hidden disability and in August last year he gave a speech at the MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival.

In his speech he lambasted the media industry for its failings in the treatment and representation of disabled people and our community.

Over the last 30 years of working in the media industry, this has been a subject that has been close to my heart and something that I have discussed many, many times in meetings and in interviews.

What is interesting is the response of non-disabled people when I bring this up. Last year I did an interview on Radio 4 about this and asked if they thought it was acceptable to ‘black face’ a Caucasian actor for a role.

The response was, of course, one of shock and insistence that this is totally unacceptable, which, of course, it very much is.

However, when I then ask if it is OK to ‘crip up’, the term used by disabled actors when a non-disabled actor plays the role of a disabled person, the response is rather different.

What I get pretty much every time is ‘an actor has a right to play various roles including playing a disabled person’.

As you can imagine, my response to that isn’t what the person wants to hear as you can’t have one rule for one minority group and another rule for other minority groups.

The response is itself also an interesting and often frustrating one to deal with.

The media needs to change its attitude and narrative towards disability representation.

The time has come to stop representing disability and disabled people as either the heroic individual who climbed a mountain despite their disability, nor is it acceptable to portray so many ‘baddies’ as people with either a mental health illness or someone with a physical disability.

Let’s face it, 20 per cent of the world population has a disability of some form.

Why can’t disabled characters be the lawyer, the doctor, the parent or any number of characters that we see on our television screens without referencing our disability.

Whilst I must admit there are more disabled actors on our television screens it’s still a really small amount in comparison to how many of us there are in the world.

As a disabled person or someone who has a disabled person in their family circle or as a friend, how do you feel about the representation of disability on our screens?