Channel 4 strengthens guidance for portrayal of disability on TV

disability portrayal code channel 4 - Winter Paralympics Presenters

Channel 4 has announced a plan to strengthen the portrayal of disabled people on television.

The broadcaster’s ‘Disability Code of Portrayal’ sets out how it aims to deliver a step change in both the quality and quantity of on screen representation of disabled people. 

The principles outline how it intends to dial up representation of disability across all its content.

Ally Castle, Channel 4’s Disability Consultant said: “We firmly believe that the commitments we are making today will take the inclusion of disabled people in our content to a different level, far beyond cliches, tropes and stereotypes.

“We will closely monitor the volume and types of disability portrayal in each programme via the standard commissioning paperwork, and I am particularly proud of the pledge to always have senior editorial disabled input in core disability programmes – whether on the production team, via a consultant or through Channel 4 expertise – ensuring that stories about disabled people are told by disabled people.”

Disability Code of Portrayal

The Code, believed to be the only one of its kind currently in the industry, will provide a set of guidelines for both commissioners and programme makers alike. 

It covers a range of measures including an explicit commitment to seeking disabled actors for disabled roles in scripted content, and promises that disabled people will be shown as well-rounded  characters who are more than just their conditions or impairments.

Channel 4’s Chief Content Officer Ian Katz, said: “After ten years of successful Paralympic coverage, it’s now time for a step change at Channel 4 across all our portfolio, in terms of both the quantity and quality of disability representation in our content.

“We have developed this Code of Portrayal to outline our clear commitments and give detailed steers as to how we go about delivering the original, nuanced and authentic portrayal of disabled people which our viewers – disabled and non-disabled – want, expect and deserve.

“This Code not only allows us to get into more engaging and knotty creative conversations around disability, it also gives us a framework for accountability – for our production partners and our commissioning editors.

“It will ensure that they work with the best talent, on and offscreen, to allow us to deliver on it and make sure that we get to a higher standard of portrayal.”

Channel 4’s six portfolio-level commitments in its new Disability Code of Portrayal require commissioners to have a range of portrayal types in their content including incidental where the character “happens” to be disabled without it driving the story; integrated where disability is present and may be directly addressed if relevant; and core where disability is front and centre of the programme.

The programme-focused commitments include ensuring disabled people in Channel 4 content have their own voice and tell their own stories wherever possible. 

Checking “able gaze”

There will be sense-checking against ‘able gaze’ where assumptions and projections about the disabled experience are made by non-disabled people, and being disabled will be presented as a valid identity, rather than anything to be ashamed about or shocked by

In line with Channel 4’s recently refreshed Commissioning Diversity Guidelines there is an explicit commitment to seeking disabled actors for disabled roles in scripted content.  

Also, to ensure a volume of representation which will allow for the full spectrum of disabled experiences to be shown, every series from now on will be expected to have at least one disabled performer, contributor, guest or presenter, with the intention for more than one.

Channel 4’s remit is to champion unheard voices, and it has given a platform to communities who have previously been underserved including disabled people. 

The official broadcaster of the Paralympics since 2012, last month Channel 4 won a coveted Cannes Lions Grand Prix Film Award for its Super.Humans advertising campaign for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

It has pioneered series such as Born to Be Different, The Undateables and The Last Leg and championed talent like Rosie Jones, Billy Monger, Bryony May Williams, Ed Jackson and Ruben Reuter. 

It has also cast disabled people in its biggest and most successful formats from First Dates and The Great British Bake Off to Hollyoaks and Gogglebox.