CONNECTUS Consulting Inc. would like to thank all those who participated in the Study, from the disability community, the broadcasting industry and all other organizations that took the time to speak with us.
Jim Sanders , President and CEO of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind was Special Advisor to the Study, and provided important direction on the project’s development. Many thanks for a valuable contribution.
We would also like to thank the members of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) Steering Committee on the Presence, Portrayal and Participation of Persons with Disabilities, and especially Committee Chair Sarah Crawford (Vice President, Public Affairs, CHUM Limited) for their support and assistance throughout the course of the Study.
The CAB Outreach Committee on Presence, Portrayal and Participation of Persons with Disabilities also provided important commentary on the Study and on the Final Report, and we thank them very much for their efforts and attention to detail.
Finally, a special thanks to Susan Wheeler, Senior Director, Policy and Regulatory Affairs with the CAB. As project manager for the Study on behalf of the CAB, Susan provided outstanding support and direction to all aspects of the Study.
This Report presents findings from a three-part research initiative conducted for the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) between May 15 and August 18, 2005 to collect and analyze qualitative evidence of issues, barriers and potential tools or initiatives respecting The Presence, Portrayal and Participation of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming Programming (the Study).
The Study was based on the following methodologies:
The federal government’s 2001 national census identifies 3.6 million Canadians as living with a disability, although it is generally agreed that this number is much larger, since not all persons with disabilities will self-identify in official reporting. An additional 2.8 million Canadians are caregivers to family members or a friend with a disability or a long-term health condition.
Persons with disabilities fall below the general population on key indicators of well-being. For example, just over 51 percent of persons with disabilities are employed, compared to 83 percent of those without disabilities. In addition, persons with disabilities encounter significant underemployment stemming from attitudes that undervalue their skills and abilities. However, where accommodations have been made, persons with disabilities have demonstrated success in education and work.
Evidence from previous research and findings from the Study indicate that persons with disabilities encounter significant barriers to education, employment, income and leisure/recreational pursuits. These barriers include:
Study respondents agree that persons with disabilities have an extremely low presence on television programming of any description. There is a broad perception that persons with disabilities lag far behind other designated groups (women, visible minorities and Aboriginal Peoples) in on-screen presence, and are underrepresented in television programming as a proportion of their presence in the general population.
There is a sense among some respondents from the disability community that presence has improved somewhat, due to the inclusion of a few primary or secondary characters with disabilities in recently aired prime time dramatic programming.
As a secondary impression, many respondents noted that on-screen presence tends to be limited to visible disabilities, while invisible disabilities – such as those related to learning or mental illness – are more rarely presented in programming.
Study respondents identified a number of barriers to the on-screen presence of persons with disabilities, including social attitudes, a small talent pool of performers with disabilities and factors related to work environments in broadcasting and/or production (e.g. stamina required for long days, accessibility of location shooting, studio space/lighting, etc.).
Two barriers emerged as central to limitations of persons with disabilities on-screen: characteristics of the independent production sector and a lack of focus/attention on broadcasting/performing by the education sector.
The independent production sector plays a critical role in the Canadian programming infrastructure, where production companies are important partners for broadcasters, in that they conceive and create programming for purchase by broadcasters. Key creative personnel, such as writers, casting directors and producers develop dramatic roles and hold decision-making power about opportunities for performers with disabilities.
The overall perception on the part of respondents is that the independent production sector is resistant to creating and producing programming that includes persons with disabilities.
A number of respondents identified the education sector as presenting significant barriers to on-screen presence, as students with disabilities are not encouraged to pursue broadcasting or production as viable career paths.
The portrayal of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming – both dramatic and news genres – is tope of many for many in the disability community.
Respondents perceived that stereotyping of characters with disabilities remains an issue in dramatic programming, where myths about persons with disabilities are captured in character and storyline, such as weakness, vulnerability and victimization. In addition, depictions of less visible disabilities such as mental illness are seen as inaccurate and “fear-inducing”.
A number of strong opinions about appropriation of voice emerged, with many from the disability community expressing concern about realistic portrayal and loss of job opportunities for performers with disabilities through the use of able-bodied actors in roles for characters with disabilities. However, there is disagreement among people in the disability community about whether a character with a disability should necessarily and always be portrayed by a performer with a disability.
As was the case in findings about on-screen presence, some improvements in portrayal were noted in recent dramatic programming, through efforts to depict the attributes of a character other than that character’s disability. Overall, improvement in portrayals is viewed as a work in progress, and positive portrayals are viewed as particularly important given very low numbers of persons with disabilities on-screen.
There were two predominant views about causes of inaccurate or stereotypical portrayals. First, many respondents indicated that public attitudes permeate the infrastructure of broadcasting and production, and myths or misinformation about disabilities become reproduced in programming.
Second, there was a strong sense that the independent production sector does not engage in the consultations and research required in order to accurately create and portray a character with a disability. Professional writers of television dramas were noted as a group that should consult more broadly with persons with disabilities when creating stories involving characters with disabilities or disability-related storylines/themes.
There was a strong level of concern expressed by respondents about the portrayal of persons with disabilities in news programming. Perspectives generally revolved around (i) an overall lack of coverage of disability issues by television news, (ii) types of coverage that focus on the disability rather than the person and (iii) the use of inappropriate language when referring to persons with disabilities in news programming.
Among perspectives about portrayal in news programming, use of inappropriate or insensitive language received the most comments. Many respondents indicated that use of language such as “suffering from” or “confined to a wheelchair” contributes to negative stereotypes and perpetuates myths about persons with disabilities.
Negative social attitudes were once again cited as a key barrier to positive or more accurate portrayal of persons with disabilities in news programming. However, many respondents suggested that more role models, such as on-air personalities with disabilities and employees with disabilities in newsrooms, would positively influence social and workplace attitudes.
A number of respondents once again cited concerns with the education sector, for failing to guide students with disabilities towards careers in broadcast journalism.
The research first explored barriers to participation in the workforce generally. These were perceived as: (i) a lack of knowledge about workplace accommodation on the part of employers, (ii) an overestimation about the costs of accommodation by employers, (iii) a sense that employees with disabilities are a burden rather than an asset, and (iv) myths and misinformation about persons with disabilities that carry into the workplace, such as beliefs that persons with disabilities are unable to perform to the level or standard of able-bodied employees.
Many broadcaster respondents indicated that their industry offers excellent prospects for employing persons with disabilities, but recognized that issues and barriers must be managed. For example, several broadcasters stated that a lack of experience with co-workers who have disabilities could cause uncertainty about hiring persons with disabilities into an extremely busy work environment.
A number of Study respondents raised the unique attributes of the broadcaster workplace, where older buildings pose difficulties in accommodation. In addition, the multi-location nature of broadcasting and production operations was noted as especially challenging for employees with disabilities given a lack of accessible transportation in major urban centers.
The independent production sector was perceived by respondents from the broadcasting industry and the disability community to be resistant to implementing accommodations for persons with disabilities.
The education sector was cited as a key external barrier to participation in the broadcasting industry, in that the sector does not seem to recognize, promote and/or understand the viability of careers in broadcasting for students with disabilities. A lack of communication and outreach between and among educators, the disability community and broadcasters was raised a number of times by respondents as an area requiring some focus when developing initiatives.
There is a general belief cited by many Study respondents that the inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming creates a number of business opportunities for broadcasters, including a market of persons with disabilities and their families, friends and caregiver; achieving a competitive edge by tapping into creative resources of a more diverse talent pool; and benefiting all employees through accommodation measures.
Given the perspective that “diversity is good business”, and the prospects of positive influence on social attitudes through advancements in presence, portrayal and participation of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming, respondents identified a number of tools or initiatives for consideration by broadcasters.
The predominant focus was on considerations for communication and outreach, especially between the broadcasting industry and the disability community. Other suggestions targeted partnerships with the education sector, measures for the independent production sector, programming initiatives such as Public Service Announcements by broadcasters and cable-style local programming to be produced and presented by persons with disabilities.
Research findings on Best Practices on presence, portrayal and participation of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming identified a number of initiatives in the U.K. through the Broadcasting and Creative Industries Disability Network, and in the U.S. through the California-based Media Access Office.
Canadian broadcasters report initiatives regarding persons with disabilities in their annual returns (i.e. annual reporting) to the CRTC, and several Canadian broadcasters have developed education and human resource initiatives that focus on inclusion of persons with disabilities.
CONNECTUS Consulting Inc. (CONNECTUS) is pleased to present the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) with our Research Report on The Presence, Portrayal and Participation of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming (the Study).
Over the past several months we have, with the assistance and support of the CAB and its Steering Committee overseeing this work, undertaken a range of consultations and background research with the following objectives:
In order to present our findings in as detailed a fashion as possible, we have organized our Report in the following manner:
Part I: Introduction and Background
Part II: An Overview of Persons with Disabilities in Canada
Part III: Research Findings
Part IV: Considerations for a Broadcaster Toolkit
We have attached four appendices to our Report:
Appendix A: A Summary of International and Canadian Best Practices
Appendix B: Organizations/Individuals Consulted
Appendix C: Stakeholder Forum Report
Appendix D: Other Issues Raised/Future Research
This Study was designed as a qualitative investigation and analysis of issues and barriers respecting the presence, portrayal and participation of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming. In consultation with the CAB Steering Committee, it was determined at an early stage that quantitative assessment of televisual presence and related content analysis – i.e. counting/estimating the number of persons with disabilities on-screen and analyzing their roles – would not be required for the Study, given the very low numbers of persons with disabilities on-screen.
In addition, accurately quantifying the number of persons with disabilities on-screen would be extremely difficult, as analysis of programming might not capture persons with less visible or invisible disabilities, such as those with learning disabilities or disease-related disabilities.
The Study was also designed on the principle of inclusiveness, in that the direction of the Study would be fundamentally guided through consultation with the Canadian disability community. To this end, the Study was based on the following qualitative methodologies:
Our summary of Best Practices is attached as Appendix A of our Report.
Beyond those qualitative measures outlined above, we carried out additional secondary research as required, including the compilations of recent statistical profiles of persons with disabilities in Canada.
Certain issues identified in the course of consultations were beyond the scope of the Study. These included: assistive technologies such as described video and closed captioning for television viewing by persons with sensory disabilities; advertising; radio; concerns regarding the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC); and public broadcasting. These issues are summarized in Appendix D.
A Note on Our Methodological Approach
Given its qualitative research design, this Study is based on perceptions and opinions of those interviewed, as well as on the views expressed by participants at the July 15, 2005 Stakeholder Forum. While studies of this nature are inherently subjective, both the numbers and types of consultations that took place with disability NGOs and broadcasting companies were more than sufficient to derive a series of comprehensive findings.
Moreover, the qualitative approach to the Study has yielded a very rich foundation of information upon which additional work and initiatives can be undertaken.
For purposes of the Study, we based our research on the following definitions:
In each interview, the research team identified the CAB as the association representing Canada’s private broadcasters, and provided examples of networks, stations and specialty services to further explain this category of the industry to respondents. Consequently, respondents provided very few comments about public broadcasting in Canada, e.g. CBC/SRC, TV Ontario, Télé-Québec.
Statistics Canada defines “disability” as a condition – physical or mental – or a health problem that restricts an individual’s ability to perform everyday activities such as working, attending school, travelling, or performing daily domestic tasks.
While the data outlined below represent the official numbers from Statistics Canada, it is generally agreed that the total number of persons with disabilities in Canadian society today is much larger. This is due in part to the self-identification factor in the reporting of a disability, where individuals may not consider themselves as “disabled”. In other instances, a person with a disability may not wish to disclose this to an employer, perhaps fearing consequences for their employment status or future career.
The Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS) undertaken by the federal government in 2001 identifies 3.6 million Canadians as living with a disability. While seniors (age 65 and over) have the highest rate of disability, it is working-age adults (age 16 to 64) that comprise the largest group of persons with disabilities.
Chart 1: Disability Rate by Age and Sex (2001) 1
(Age Groups and Percentages)
Beyond this overall perspective of persons with disabilities in Canada:
With respect to key indicators of well-being, persons with disabilities fall below the general population on measurements of education, employment and income.
For example, younger Canadians with disabilities are about one-half as likely as those without disabilities to complete university.
Just over 51 percent of persons with disabilities aged 25 to 54 are employed, compared to nearly 83 percent of those without disabilities. In addition, roughly 43 percent of persons with disabilities are out of the labour force, compared to 12.5 percent of able-bodied persons in this age group.
Moreover, beyond higher rates of unemployment, persons with disabilities encounter significant underemployment, in large part as a result of attitudes that undervalue their skills and abilities. 3
However, where accommodations have been made, persons with disabilities have clearly demonstrated success in education and work.
An increasing number of persons with disabilities identify social, political and environmental factors in assessing barriers to education, employment, income and leisure/recreational pursuits. We asked all respondents (with and without disabilities) for their perceptions about the main barriers for persons with disabilities in Canada today. Key barriers cited include:
As the reported research findings below indicate, many of these issues and barriers are perceived by stakeholders as part of the challenge that persons with disabilities encounter in presence, portrayal and participation in television programming.
The following three sections comprise the reporting of our findings on presence, portrayal and participation of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming.
In each section, core findings are presented together with supporting quotations acquired from both consultations and the Stakeholder Forum. Quotations are verbatim, and identified by the person’s type of organization and/or role (i.e. NGO Representative, Broadcaster, Industry-related Organization, Employee/Performer). Several NGO Representatives and government officials consulted for the Study had previous experience in broadcasting and/or performing; this is noted where warranted. In all cases, individual attribution of quotes was withheld in order to generate frank discussion in all consultations.
In addition to the reporting of perspectives on presence, portrayal and participation, we also report on barriers that are perceived by respondents as relevant to issues of presence, portrayal and participation of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming, i.e. the “why” of the issue.
Responses reveal that, although commitment and effort are required on the part of both broadcasters and the disability community to improve the inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming, important advances have already been made. There was wide consensus on issues and barriers, between the disability community and the broadcasting industry, and consistently across the regions of Canada.
We aren’t on television. We are vastly underrepresented. (NGO Representative)
There is definitely a lack of representation of persons with disabilities on-screen. (Broadcaster)
There are hardly any numbers to count. (Employee/Performer)
Almost without exception, respondents in consultations and participants at the Stakeholder Forum agree – whether from the disability community, the broadcasting industry, or industry-related organizations – that persons with disabilities have an extremely low presence on television programming of any description.
Compounding this perception is a sense that persons with disabilities lag far behind the three other designated groups (i.e. women, visible minorities and Aboriginal Peoples) in terms of on-screen presence.
We are well behind all other designated groups…women, [ethnic or racial] minorities, Aboriginal people with APTN; they are all far more in evidence than people with disabilities. (NGO Representative)
Most stations have representatives from the other diversity groups...but there is one remaining group that television has to say, “Wait a minute. Why aren’t they there, on-air?” Well, why not? (Broadcaster)
No one blinks an eye at seeing a person of colour on television. (NGO Representative)
No one would care if Ian Hanomansing took over from Peter Mansbridge. But someone with a disability? No way. (Broadcaster)
The last quote above points to the widely held perspective that persons with disabilities are vastly underrepresented in news and public affairs programming as newsreaders, journalists, assignment reporters and in other roles.
There’s David Onley (Citytv), and Craig Oliver (CTV) and Patrick Watson (formerly CBC) come to mind. But other than that? (Broadcaster, multiple mentions of the same individuals)
Chantal Petitclerc is well known as an on-air personality in Quebec. (NGO Representative, multiple mentions of the same individual)
There is also a sense among many respondents that the very low presence of persons with disabilities on-screen is disproportionate to their presence in the general population, contrary to the other three designated groups.
Given that we are 15 percent of the population…we are proportionately not there. The Paralympics is probably the only exception. (NGO Representative)
However, despite the general agreement that the on-screen presence of persons with disabilities remains low, there is a sense among some in the disability community that presence has somewhat improved, and may continue to do so. Much of this was attributed to the inclusion of a small number of primary and secondary characters with disabilities on popular dramatic programming.
[Presence] is still low, but my sense is that things are improving…the double amputee on “CSI”, and the lead character on “CSI” is losing his hearing…” (NGO Representative; multiple mentions of the program by other respondents from all sectors)
The lead character in “Sue Thomas F.B. Eye” is Deaf. ( NGO Representative; multiple mentions of the program)
There are some recent shows like “Degrassi” and “Joan of Arcadia” [that include secondary characters with disabilities]. (NGO Representative; multiple mentions of the programs)
“The West Wing” has Marlee Matlin [Deaf actor] on sometimes, and she’s using an interpreter.” (NGO Representatives; multiple mentions of the program)
“Blind Justice” has a lead character who is blind, as an acquired disability. (NGO Representative; multiple mentions of the program)
As a secondary impression, a number of respondents noted that on-screen presence tends to be limited to visible disabilities, such as individuals in wheelchairs. Respondents suggested that invisible disabilities – such as those associated with learning or mental illness – are even more rare in programming of any category. Most comments on invisible disabilities were related to portrayal of persons with disabilities, and are outlined below.
Finally, a number of respondents indicated that the presence of persons with disabilities as background performers in dramatic programming is also very low. Many respondents viewed this as an important element in reducing the marginalization of persons with disabilities in society more generally, where persons in wheelchairs or using white canes/guide dogs would be integrated into background scenes.
With cultural diversity, people complain they are only in the background. Persons with disabilities want to be in the background [as well as in the foreground]. (NGO Representative)
Rarely if ever are we interviewed on the street, by a reporter. We just aren’t seen as having opinions. (NGO Representative)
This points to a perception held by virtually all Study participants: television is a powerful medium that can influence social attitudes, including attitudes about persons with disabilities. Television is universally recognized as a medium that can make a significant contribution to advancing the acceptance of persons with disabilities in society through on-screen inclusion.
Discussions about on-screen presence invariably drew additional perceptions about why there are few persons with disabilities on screen. Many respondents identified barriers to on-screen presence, which were filtered and discussed at the Stakeholder Forum (see below).
Negative attitudes permeate the whole industry. (Employee/Performer)
The system is broken, it’s not working for the disabled. (Employee/Performer)
… to much more specific encounters with physical barriers…
Access to auditions is impossible. You can’t get in the door with a wheelchair. (NGO Representative with performing experience)
…to comments and concerns about whether there are enough performers with disabilities (i.e. developed as opposed to raw talent) that can appear on-screen.
The talent pool just doesn’t seem that large, very few performers [with disabilities] come forward. (Broadcaster)
Hard to find talent. (Broadcaster)
There may not be such a big talent pool, but – unconsciously or consciously – producers may not be looking. (Industry-related Organization)
Several respondents perceived that television is a visual medium that promotes and thrives on beauty and image. As such, persons with disabilities may encounter a “beauty barrier” to on-screen presence.
Blind people look different. Unless we look right, we won’t get on [television]. (NGO Representative)
We aren’t pretty enough [that’s what people think]. (NGO Representative)
Others suggested that environmental factors, long days and location shooting pose unexpected barriers for persons with disabilities, many of whom can already have health problems.
The studio lights were so bright…it was impossible for me to see. (NGO Representative with performing experience)
It can be a stamina thing. Ten-hour shoots, it can be too much. (Government Official with performing experience)
Some sets and studios are simply not accessible. You either can’t get transportation to them, or you can’t get around in them once you’re there. (NGO Representative with broadcasting experience)
Respondents perceived and provided extensive comment on two barriers that are viewed as the most daunting, and the most prevalent: characteristics of the independent production sector and historical practices in the education sector.
The independent production sector is a vital part of the Canadian programming infrastructure, and production companies are extremely important partners for Canadian broadcasters. This is because independent production companies conceive and create programming for purchase by broadcasters.
The independent production sector consequently involves key creative personnel in the development of dramatic roles and their assignment to performers, including writers, casting directors, producers and directors, among others. Given their importance in the conception and creation of programming, a good deal of decision-making power about roles/performance opportunities for persons with disabilities resides within the independent production community.
Many respondents interviewed for the Study were aware of the important role played by the independent production industry in the creation of programming. The overall perception – from those consulted within the disability community and the broadcasting industry – is that there is significant resistance from the independent production sector with respect to creating and producing programming that includes persons with disabilities. This perception extended to both the development of characters and the use of performers with disabilities (for acting jobs overall).
The independent producers seem really resistant to roles for and/or performers with disabilities…I don’t know why this is. (Broadcaster)
Producers say, “It costs money [to include a person with a disability]”. That’s total bullshit. (Employee/Performer)
You know, at the level of the producer, the casting director, the writer, there’s so little awareness. Agents don’t consider it either, it’s just viewed as a burden.” (NGO Representative)
It takes courage to cast someone in a wheelchair. (NGO Representative)
Compounding these general perceptions of resistance from the independent production sector is the sense that a lack of inclusion may stem from a lack of persons with disabilities currently working at the creative level in programming production.
In other words, there is a perception that there are very few professionals with disabilities working as writers or directors, or filling other key creative roles, in the production sector today. Such individuals could potentially serve as role models in the industry for younger Canadians with disabilities.
The infrastructure breaks down at an early age, doesn’t it? Kids make decisions about writing, acting, being in a newsroom or making drama early. (NGO Representative)
Kids with disabilities don’t see us on the career path. The education sector has not been too successful at this. (Broadcaster)
[Career] counselors really need to expand their view of what we can do. (NGO Representative)
Many respondents identified the education sector as presenting significant barriers to on-screen presence of persons with disabilities, primarily because students with disabilities are not encouraged to pursue production or broadcasting as viable careers. This may stem from a “fear factor” on the part of educators, who may be reluctant to direct students with disabilities to an industry that seems remote or inaccessible, and points to a need to “educate the educators” about the broadcasting industry and opportunities for persons with disabilities.
Respondents also noted that issues with the education sector may be a reflection of negative public attitudes that permeate the system, reaching to parents who may not encourage careers in these fields, and resulting in a lack of communication or outreach among educators, the disability community and broadcasters.
Stakeholder Forum participants recognized the reality that on-screen presence among persons with disabilities is very low, and recommended a range of tools, initiatives and strategies for consideration in addressing this issue (outlined in Part IV below).
Participants at the Forum focused their discussion about presence on a number of barriers to the inclusion of persons with disabilities on-screen, identifying the following as especially critical:
Participants were far less inclined to view “beauty and image” as a barrier to on-screen inclusion. In fact, contrary to the views of many respondents in the one-on-one consultations, Forum participants were largely dismissive of the notion that the physical appearance of persons with disabilities and/or their use of assistive devices work as barriers to on-screen inclusion.
Participants at the Stakeholder Forum also discussed the business case for greater inclusion of persons with disabilities on-screen, particularly in terms of the impact that greater on-screen presence could potentially have on broadcaster (and advertiser) ability to reach a wider market of persons with disabilities, their families, friends and/or caregivers. The business case for inclusion is discussed further in Part IV of this Report.
In this section of the Report, we present and discuss our findings on portrayal, i.e. the manner in which persons with disabilities are perceived as depicted in television programming.
We have divided our discussion on portrayal into two sections. The first section deals with portrayal of persons with disabilities in programming genres such as drama, comedy, variety or children’s shows. The second section examines the portrayal of persons with disabilities in news, sports and public affairs programming.
Once again, as was the case with the presentation of findings about on-screen presence above, the discussion to follow is based on the perceptions and views of respondents through one-on-one consultations and of participants at the Stakeholder Forum.
Not unlike the discussion of presence above, perceptions of portrayal from respondents during one-on-one consultations and participants at the Stakeholder Forum range from the very negative to the more positive. But there is little doubt that issues associated with portrayal are top of mind for many in the disability community.
Given the relatively low on-screen presence of persons with disabilities, many respondents expressed their views with the stated recognition that the available number of portrayals is small. With this in mind, the following themes emerged as central to perceptions on portrayal:
As a general observation, we noted that these themes of portrayal emerged in a consensus fashion, in that these perspectives are held by representatives from disability NGOs, the broadcasting industry, industry-related associations and employees/performers with disabilities.
Of all perspectives received during one-on-one consultations, stereotyping and perpetuating myths associated with disabilities received the most comment. Many respondents were of the view that stereotyping was the prevailing problem of persons with disabilities.
Stereotyping negatively contributes to self-identification and self-image. And there is too much stereotyping of people with disabilities on television. ( NGO Representative)
You still get all kinds of stereotypes, and the focus is always on the disability. The media needs to start portraying this as normal. (NGO Representative)
We’re still the “Hunchback of Notre Dame” – a menace, or a monster. ( NGO Representative)
Broadcasters have an obligation to promote the positive portrayals, but they don’t. It’s very rare. (NGO Representative)
Only physical disabilities seem to get any attention. Less visible disabilities don’t get on TV. (NGO Representative)
Victimization of persons with disabilities was often viewed as among the more negative of stereotyped portrayals on television.
We’re still too often the victim. (NGO Representative)
[A character with a disability] is usually someone to be pitied, a victim of some type. (NGO Representative)
Two minutes into “Law & Order”, we’re mugged or murdered. (Employee/Performer)
You are either a hero or a victim. You don’t see a disabled lawyer in a court scene. (Industry-related Organization)
Many perspectives relating to stereotyped portrayals identified specific disabilities, often those that are less visible and therefore, according to several respondents, more “fear-inducing”. This fear becomes perpetuated through dramatic representation.
Propensity for violence by mentally ill is perpetuated…the idea that the mentally ill are dangerous. (NGO Representative)
You often see criminality associated with invisible disabilities, like learning disabilities. (NGO Representative)
With respect to appropriation of voice, a number of strong opinions emerged about the use of able-bodied performers in roles portraying persons with disabilities. In many comments, concerns about realistic portrayal, taking jobs away from performers with disabilities and professional ethics emerged.
More often than not, you still see actors without disabilities playing the role [of a person with a disability]. (NGO Representative)
It drives me nuts when they use able-bodied people to portray us. They are missing out on a realistic portrayal. (NGO Representative)
To the trained eye, you can tell. “That guy doesn’t have a disability”. (NGO Representative)
Using able-bodied actors…well there’s no more brown paint and pretending to be Aboriginal. (Government Official)
While the above represents the predominant view about the portrayal of characters with disabilities by able-bodied performers, a contrary view was also voiced.
Acting is a profession, so they should use professional actors regardless of whether they are disabled or not. Playing a person with a disability would be acting, wouldn’t it? (NGO Representative)
Many respondents expressed contrary views to the perspectives on portrayal outlined above, where improvements in recent programming were noted in much the same fashion as observations about presence outlined above. Many of these comments identified the more positive efforts to promote inclusion and non-marginalization by focusing on attributes of a character other than that character’s disability.
On balance – it’s getting better, but the stereotyping still prevails. (NGO Representative)
Some are positive and some are not. It’s positive to the extent that these characters are there at all, at least there seems to be progress overall. (Broadcaster)
There seems to be less stereotyping now…some characters are better. But they are still few and far between. (NGO Representative)
I’ve noticed an improvement of late. It seems more rare to see a negative portrayal. (NGO Representative)
Many respondents identified specific programs that portray persons with disabilities more accurately, or with a more positive brush. In many cases, these programs include characters with disabilities who are portrayed by performers with disabilities.
“CSI” and “Law & Order” do a better job, more accurately portray people with learning disabilities. (NGO Representative)
Overall it seems to be improving, even less visible disabilities are being portrayed, like the fellow losing his hearing on “CSI”. (Broadcaster)
“Sue Thomas” is a good role model for the Deaf community…shows the Deaf can do the same things as able-bodied people. (NGO Representative)
It’s positive to have Marlee Matlin on “The West Wing”… (her character) is a respected professional…she uses an interpreter, too. (NGO Representative)
Occasional storylines were mentioned as more accurately portraying life with a disability…
An episode of ER where an artist going blind committed suicide at the end. You know what? That kind of thing happens. That wasn’t negative. (NGO Representative)
O.K. so the stories on “Blind Justice” might be straining reality, and the guy’s not really blind, but it’s not a bad job of showing life with a disability and what you go through. (NGO Representative)
…while others were viewed as less accurate.
Oh, please. I’ve been blind since birth and I’ve never touched anyone’s face in my entire life. (NGO Representative)
Finally, a number of respondents voiced a view about portrayals as a work in progress, in a more balanced sense.
Portrayals do seem more positive lately, with “Sue Thomas” and the doctor on “CSI”. These are positive role models. But you still get some victims, on reality shows like “Extreme Makeover”, where they renovate homes for poor people and the families always seem to have a child with a disability. (Broadcaster)
Respondents also emphasized that given the very low numbers of persons with disabilities on-screen, it is important that portrayals are fair, accurate and complete.
Many respondents expressed their views about why stereotypical or negative portrayals of persons with disabilities continue – even when there is evidence of progress and improvement. Unlike perspectives that were voiced about barriers to presence, there were just two predominant views about barriers to positive depiction.
Without question, the number one barrier to more progress on portrayals was viewed as public attitudes that carry over into the depiction of persons with disabilities in programming. Such attitudes – which include the reproduction of myths and misinformation about disabilities and life with a disability – are viewed by many Study participants as permeating the entire infrastructure of production and broadcasting.
…still a surprise to see a person with a disability in a role. It’s an extension of public attitudes. (NGO Representative)
The public misunderstands us. Maybe it’s not surprising this carries over to television. (NGO Representative)
Attitudinal barriers equate with stereotyping. (Industry-related Organization)
We’re supposed to be pitied, be victims…at least, that’s the prevailing public attitude. (Employee/Performer)
Some respondents linked this barrier to the manner in which barriers for other designated groups have weakened or dissolved through time.
It’s like the early days when blacks on television were stereotyped. That’s much better now. Getting past the disability is tough, it takes time. There’s still tokenism. (Industry-related Organization)
Reminiscent of women on television, when they were just stereotyped. It’s come a long way. (Broadcaster)
The second barrier to improving the depiction of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming is believed to reside within the production sector itself. Many respondents believe that there is a general lack of effort made on consultation and research – particularly among professional writers of television programming – that would result in more accurate depictions.
Writers and producers take the easy route in portraying disability. They don’t consult…more writers need to contribute more effort. (Broadcaster)
There’s just no consultation. If you are talking about Aboriginals, then talk to Aboriginals…same thing goes for persons with disabilities. (Industry-related Organization)
Very few guidelines are in place…producers tend to have a cast that looks like the community they are trying to produce for, to reflect that audience and stay relevant [i.e. a lack of inclusion in defining their audience]. (Industry-related Organization)
I’ve never been consulted about creating a role. We could help. (NGO Representative)
The last quote above is one response to a question asked of respondents from disability NGOs and other persons with disabilities consulted for the Study. From our consultations, two NGO representatives (out of 45 individuals from 22 organizations) had been consulted by a writer or producer about accurately depicting a person with a disability.
Other respondents indicated that broadcasters themselves could do a better job at insisting on accurate portrayals from third-party productions, but encounter their own challenges in doing so.
We’re better at making roles more positive, but don’t have enough experience. We’re not nearly as good at figuring how to integrate [persons with disabilities] into storylines. (Broadcaster)
There’s an effort to be sensitive. But when you buy co-productions you don’t see a lot [of good portrayals] coming from other countries. (Broadcaster)
Participants at the Stakeholder Forum discussed portrayal issues and barriers at length, largely confirming the views of respondents from consultations but with a different order of emphasis. Key issues were viewed as:
In particular, participants at the Stakeholder Forum voiced their concern about the creation of roles with disabilities by non-disabled writers, where disability culture and the reality of living with a disability are viewed as inaccurately portrayed.
Participants at the Stakeholder Forum also engaged in a lengthy discussion about appropriation of voice, concerning the performance of characters with disabilities by able-bodied actors. The range of discussion reflected the findings from the consultations, where there is disagreement among the disability community/ individuals with disabilities and broadcasters about the importance or relevance of this issue. The range of individual perspectives included:
With respect to discussions about stereotyping, many participants at the Stakeholder Forum were also of the view that myths about disabilities/living with a disability carry into portrayals. These myths range from notions that all persons with disabilities are victims and are somehow to be pitied, to patterns of speech/use of language, and body language. In addition, the myth that persons with disabilities are “suffering” and that disabilities are “conditions” to be “heroically overcome” still find their way into on-screen portrayals.
While the above considerations generally dominated discussions about portrayal at the Stakeholder Forum, participants also acknowledged during roundtable discussion that – as is the case with presence – some progress is being made on depiction through characterizations that focus on the person/skills as opposed to the character’s disability.
As noted above in reporting findings on presence of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming , respondents perceive a very low number of on-air personalities with disabilities in news and public affairs programming.
While most respondents tended to view this lack of presence in a pragmatic fashion, and linked to a lack of initiative on the part of the education system in neglecting to direct students with disabilities to careers in broadcast journalism, there was a great deal more concern expressed by respondents about the portrayal of persons with disabilities in news programming.
Many respondents commented not only on national news coverage, but on local coverage as well. In many instances, concerns about portrayal in television news programming were tied to local media coverage more generally, e.g. radio, print and television. With this in mind, the following themes emerged as central to respondent perceptions of portrayal in news and public affairs programming:
There was a near-unanimous perspective voiced by respondents about the general lack of coverage of disability issues by television news.
Our issues have difficulty getting airtime and ink. (NGO Representative)
Coverage of some issues, like getting autistic kids back to their parents in Ontario, has been good. But other coverage has been poor, inadequate. (Broadcaster)
I’m not Superwoman, I need some assistance and can’t do everything independently. But the focus should not be me, the focus should be on not being able to vote alone. It’s the issue that needs to be portrayed. (NGO Representative)
When disability issues and persons with disabilities are reported by television news, there is a sense that coverage is skewed in a manner that marginalizes or stereotypes persons with disabilities.
There’s a lack of normalization in news…only the exceptional stories or people are the focus. We don’t want to be amazing. We want to be normal. (NGO Representative)
In general, it’s tragedy, victimization, or criminality. (Government Official)
[In news coverage] there is still too much focus on the victim, rather than the individual. Focus on the person. (Broadcaster)
It’s either tragedy or heroism. Or it’s the hyper-accomplished, like Rick Hansen or Chantal Petitclerc. (Government Official)
Of course there is more interest by the media in celebrities with disabilities, the Rick Hansens and Chantal Petitclercs. That’s good, but there are too few stories about the average person with a disability in the local community. (NGO Representative)
Top of mind for many respondents was the insensitivity of portrayals of persons with disabilities on television news programming, as indicated through the kind of language used in stories. The central concern expressed is that the use of insensitive language perpetuates stereotyping of persons with disabilities as somehow afflicted with a condition that victimizes and medicalizes their status.
There is a problem with language about people with disabilities in news. “Overcoming a disability” and the like. It plays out as a negative thing. (NGO Representative)
It’s all about the medical model, the “suffering”. Coverage seems to have regressed. (Industry-related Organization)
The biggest problem is the negative language, “confined”, “suffering”. They covered Tracy [Latimer] in such a dehumanizing way. (NGO Representative)
News is a big area of concern for us, it reflects society…and the news category does have some insensitive portrayals. (Broadcaster)
There is still troubling terminology – “the disabled”, “the elderly”. (NGO Representative)
News coverage is far more knowledgeable and appropriate than ever before. Paralympics coverage is excellent. But language could still improve, avoid things like “confined to a wheelchair”. (NGO Representative)
Despite these concerns, respondents did not indicate any initiatives that might be helpful in addressing in appropriate language, in either one-on-one consultations or at the Stakeholder Forum.
Other respondents expressed their perspectives on the types of disabilities covered by television news…
As for learning disabilities, they are rarely dealt with (in news programming) at all. (NGO Representative)
…while others indicated advances in some areas…
Canadian news is not nearly as bad as the U.S. in linking mental illness to crime, but still needs to work on avoiding sensationalizing mental illness. (NGO Representative)
…and others recognized there is a need for progress in news portrayals.
There is more sensitivity to issues, points of view are more useful, but there is a ways to go. (Broadcaster)
Beyond coverage of disability issues/persons with disabilities in news coverage, a number of respondents shared their perspectives on other types of public affairs programming and sports. Many indicated a need for programming that focuses more deeply on disability culture.
CBC had “Moving On”…apart from that, there has been no extended coverage of disabilities or life with a disability. (NGO Representative, multiple mentions of this program)
I think [a Canadian network] had a documentary about disabilities that was excellent…couldn’t there be more of this? (NGO Representative)
We have everyday lives, we’re more normal than anyone realizes. We have sex lives, families. This could be represented. (NGO Representative)
And once again, a sense of some progress being made.
[One of our productions] looked at sex and disability, really a good job at normalizing. (Broadcaster)
Respondents identified a number of barriers to better portrayal of persons with disabilities in news programming, ranging from the influence of public attitudes to a lack of on-air talent.
News portrayal is improving, but I find it incredible that there are not more newscasters on TV, for example those with physical disabilities. (Broadcaster)
[Public] attitudes permeate the news. (Employee/Performer)
With respect to perceived issues concerning the use of inappropriate language, one respondent suggested the following:
A new generation of reporter has slipped back to the old language. They have a long way to go in showing respect and learning about us. (NGO Representative)
Several respondents identified a lack of persons with disabilities as on-air and newsroom role models that would ostensibly encourage better portrayals and more on-air presence overall.
[Having more] persons with disabilities in the newsroom is a definite help. (Broadcaster)
You need more role models, more people with disabilities in the newsroom – there are too few now. (Broadcaster)
A number of respondents flagged concerns with the education sector in failing to guide students with disabilities toward careers in broadcast journalism. (This barrier was perceived as a predominant factor in participation in the broadcasting industry by persons with disabilities as a whole, and is examined in detail in Part C below.) As one example of this perspective:
There’s no outreach, to schools or communities. Until some visionaries in the industry commit to change, nothing will happen. (Broadcaster)
Finally, several broadcaster respondents identified one particular area that could work to include and accurately portray Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming news: through the use of subject matter experts with disabilities, as expert commentators on news stories (i.e. not just as commentators on disability issues). This was not raised as a perspective by any respondents with disabilities or any representatives from disability NGOs. As noted by one broadcaster,
We have a hard time identifying subject matter experts [with disabilities] to come in for [comment/analysis of] news stories…but we’d like to know who they are. (Broadcaster)
Stakeholder Forum participants expressed a single perspective and a related barrier in discussions concerning portrayal of persons with disabilities in news programming: sensitivity issues in coverage, including the use of inappropriate language and a lack of understanding about disability issues.
Participants also identified the lack of employees with disabilities in newsrooms as a key barrier to advancing portrayals of persons with disabilities in news programming.
With respect to the use of inappropriate language, a Forum participant offered an opinion that this may be due to systemic barriers for persons with disabilities, and less about insensitivity of a new generation of journalist.
There was also some debate about the use of appropriate language, with reference to the correct terminology to apply to Deaf persons. One perspective argues that references should be made to the person where the disability is secondary (e.g. a Canadian who is Deaf) while another perspective argues that primacy should be given to the disability in terminology (e.g. a Deaf Canadian). This difference of opinion underpins the importance of recognizing that cultural differences can exist within the disability community.
As noted above, there was no consensus on ways of dealing with terminology and appropriate language.
Lack of coverage of disability issues in news programming was also cited as an issue by participants at the Forum, but did not receive further discussion.
In this section of our Report, we present our findings on the participation of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming, primarily from the perspective of obtaining and retaining employment in the industry. We first briefly revisit issues of participation in the workforce generally, followed by a discussion of perspectives raised by respondents about participation in the broadcasting industry more specifically.
This is followed by some reporting on barriers to participation in broadcasting as perceived by respondents during consultations, and a summary of views about participation by those attending the Stakeholder Forum.
In the course of one-on-one consultations, each respondent was asked for their perspective on issues and barriers respecting participation in the workforce and the workplace, in general. This was done in order to ascertain the experiences of respondents in their own employment and workplaces, and to enrich the subsequent discussion about participation in the broadcasting industry.
Respondents viewed the central issues of participation in the workforce as:
There’s a lack of knowledge about technology, both on the part of disabled people and on the part of corporations. It’s likely the biggest barrier behind attitudes in terms of workforce participation. (NGO Representative)
Advances in technology really level the playing field (for accommodation). (NGO Representative)
The costs of accommodation are simply overestimated. It’s amazing how easy accommodation can be…and we can help. (NGO Representative)
There is a definite belief that the cost of accommodation is high. But remember, changes benefit all workers like curb cuts for strollers…employers should see this as an investment in all their people. (NGO Representative)
Wouldn’t you rather pay $1100 for some software, and get in return an employee who will bring far greater value to your company? (NGO Representative)
No question, we are viewed as a burden, something that an employer does not want to take on. With minimal assistance, we’re as productive as the next guy. (NGO Representative)
Attitudes are the core problem. There is an expectation that we can’t work. (NGO Representative)
My vision was going…I kept looking for assignments that would keep me out of taxis and in the office. I had no idea whether I should tell [my employer] or not. (NGO Representative with experience in broadcasting)
Persons with disabilities have to prove themselves, that their disability will not prevent them from doing the job. (NGO Representative)
There’s a negative notion of prospects [for children with disabilities], and as a result, a lower push by parents. (NGO Representative)
A lot of people with disabilities were never asked, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” (NGO Representative)
The education system could definitely do more on this front…kids with disabilities are not told, “You can go on to do bigger and better things”. (NGO Representative)
Not surprisingly, a number of the above noted issues and barriers about participation in the workforce generally were viewed by respondents as factors concerning participation by Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming. Many respondents raised additional issues and barriers with respect to employment in the broadcasting industry, where less than 2 percent of the workforce is comprised of persons with disabilities. 5
Respondents included their perspectives on:
There is little to report in the way of hesitation or reluctance about this on the part of any respondents.
To this end, a number of respondents indicated that the broadcasting industry presents excellent opportunities for persons with disabilities.
Broadcasting is not that different from other industries, it’s a great industry for persons with disabilities, really diverse, creative, welcoming. (Broadcaster)
There are plenty of jobs for people with sensory disabilities in broadcasting…chase producers [locating and securing interviews for news broadcasts] sit all day. (Employee/Performer)
There are some design considerations, but some folks with physical disabilities would be perfect for some kinds of jobs in broadcasting. (Broadcaster)
Let’s get on with it. (Broadcaster)
While enthusiasm for advancing participating in the broadcasting industry is high among many respondents, there is also a recognition that there are issues to deal with and barriers to break down.
Some perspectives on issues and barriers identified those that are more internal to the broadcasting industry. For example, with respect to attitudes, many broadcasters likened the “fear factor” associated with the recruiting and hiring of persons with disabilities to similar attitudes once held about the recruiting and hiring of women in the broadcasting industry.
This parallels the struggles of women to get access to jobs in the industry, with the same arguments: “No qualified people.” (Broadcaster)
It’s like the original perception of women in the workplace. They’ll slow you down. Not so. (Broadcaster)
It’s just like working with anyone else. (Broadcaster)
A number of broadcasters identified the daily realities of the broadcasting industry as creating hesitation in recruiting and hiring persons with disabilities.
Managers are doing four jobs at once…and see an employee with a disability as an added burden. It’s a sensitizing issue, we have to show it’s a benefit, not a burden. (Broadcaster, multiple mentions of the issue)
There’s a fear among some managers, of not knowing how to interact with a disabled person. (Broadcaster)
Many respondents identified the internal issue of accommodation as an important concern about participation in the broadcasting industry by persons with disabilities, and one which highlights the relative uniqueness of the broadcaster workplace environment.
Of particular emphasis on the part of broadcaster respondents was the physical age of some buildings, and other factors relating to physical accommodation for wheelchairs.
We’re in an older building…there is no elevator to the cafeteria, we only just got a ramp outside. For us, accommodation is more expensive. (Broadcaster, multiple mentions of the issue)
We don’t own our building, we lease space. It can be doubly tough to accommodate as a result. (Broadcaster)
Some studios are just not accessible. Getting from place to place can be tough. But the physical barriers are the worst. (NGO Representative with experience in broadcasting)
The multi-location nature of broadcasting operations and production operations was also viewed as related to a broader social barrier for persons with disabilities, i.e. transportation.
Physical transportation from location to location can be an inhibitor. (NGO Representative)
I would run up such a taxi bill! There was no other way to get around. (NGO Representative with broadcasting experience)
Some respondents saw a relationship between the glamour of the broadcasting industry and the presumption of barriers to entry on the part of younger people with disabilities.
The culture of television, the image of television, that’s a huge inhibitor for a person with a disability. (NGO Representative)
Several respondents drew a connection between a lack of on-air role models in television news, and a lack of interest among younger people with disabilities in participating in the industry whether on-air or behind the camera.
You do need more role models, like more reporters with disabilities. Just don’t have them do only disability stories. That’s like having women reporters do only women’s issues. (NGO Representative, multiple mentions)
It’s a Catch-22…if you don’t see yourself, you won’t want to go there. (Government Official)
Issues of accommodation were also expressed regarding the production sector.
The independent producers are very disability-unfriendly, their set-ups [for accommodating persons with disabilities] are not good, that’s the reality of independent production. (Broadcaster)
There are physical barriers to casting facilities, you can’t get in the door. (Industry-related Organization)
Others saw the opportunity deriving from accommodation as part of the business case for diversity.
Broadcasters need to assess the investment of accommodation versus the cost of not accommodating . (Government Official)
A number of other issues and barriers to participation in the broadcasting industry reflected on those that are external to the industry. For example, a significant number of respondents identified the education sector as shouldering a great deal of responsibility for failing to promote (or understand) broadcasting as viable careers for students with disabilities.
Counselors really need to expand their view of what people can do. Not every profession is open to the able-bodied. But for the disabled: most kids will write themselves off before they would even try for a media job. (NGO Representative)
There is not a great track record on the education side for getting people into broadcasting…for the Deaf, there are graphics, animation, there might be some great ideas out there. (NGO Representative)
Others suggested that it might be time to look for alternatives to the education system to help persons with disabilities acquire skills necessary for job in broadcasting.
The education sector has not been that successful in directing students with disabilities to careers in broadcasting…maybe the [disability] groups should do it. (Broadcaster)
There are on-going challenges to identifying qualified candidates with disabilities and accessing the resource pool. I wonder if the disability communities could screen in advance? (Broadcaster)
A number of respondents indicated that educational institutions themselves, especially in the post-secondary environment, have done a poor job of accommodation, and therefore in attracting promising students with disabilities to their programs.
Look at [a community college in British Columbia]…three-quarters of their classes are in buildings that are inaccessible. (NGO Representative)
Schools, media arts and journalism programs need to do a better job of accommodating. I may not be able to operate a camera, but I would make a heck of an interviewer. That should be taken into account. (NGO Representative)
Colleges and uni versities could do a much better job at accommodation. (NGO Representative)
The lack of on-going training in the production sector was also raised.
Training in production is not well crafted or well organized, it’s ad hoc at best. The production environment is just not set up for disabled people. (Industry-related Organization)
Consultations with respondents about participation in the industry often highlighted the need for more and better communication and outreach among the education sector, the broadcasting and production sector, and the disability community. Broadcasters and representatives from disability NGOs in particular raised the need for greater communication between them.
There is not enough outreach by broadcasters into the community [of persons with disabilities]…we don’t really know what opportunities there are. (NGO Representative)
We have to do a better job of connecting with broadcasters. We haven’t done so well at this, yet. (NGO Representative)
There are too many NGOs…we wonder if there could be one-stop shopping, something like WorkAble which provided training, counseling, employees, all in one place. (Broadcaster)
Disability groups do seem very scattered, who do we talk to? It’s tough for one employee in my company to talk to 20 groups. (Broadcaster)
We don’t know where to start. Tell us where to start. (Broadcaster)
Issues of communication were also raised with respect to outreach with the education sector…
You need to step back, get into the schools and I mean elementary schools and get to them early. (Broadcaster)
Employers in the broadcasting industry need more willingness to actively promote opportunities to persons with disabilities, using career and placement centres in colleges and universities. (NGO Representative)
…and on the part of the production sector.
There is very little encouragement by the guilds (writing, directing)…there is no outreach and it tends to be extremely competitive. (Industry-related Organization)
Participants at the Stakeholder Forum identified a number of issues concerning participation in television programming, most notably about employment in the broadcasting industry. Participants in particular emphasized:
Among the above issues, participants noted the lack of communication and outreach between the disability community and broadcasters as a predominant factor. Many participants pointed to the Stakeholder Forum itself as among the first opportunities these sectors have had to communicate with each other about the issues, and begin some discussion on ways to move forward.
A table summarizing Study findings on issues, barriers and opportunities respecting the presence, portrayal and participation of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming is presented on the following page.
Table 1 – Summary of Findings
on the Presence, Portrayal and Participation of Persons
with Disabilities in Television Programming
||There is a general belief that moving forward on inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming creates a number of opportunities:
Broadcasting industry is seen as a potential agent of change that can influence social attitudes.
Portrayal - Drama
Portrayal – News
Respondents in one-on-one consultations and participants at the Stakeholder Forum were asked for their perspectives on potential tools or initiatives that might be considered in the advancement of presence, portrayal and participation of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming.
As a general observation about the findings presented in this part of the Report, we note that all individuals, companies and organizations consulted for the Study agreed that tools or initiatives could be developed for any of the following reasons:
Respondents to the one-on-one consultations and participants at the Stakeholder Forum suggested a variety of tools and initiatives for consideration by broadcasters, along the following themes:
With respect to Initiatives Targeting Education Sector Partnerships and Initiatives Targeting the Production Sector, only a few NGO Representatives addressed these, even though education and production practices were raised as significant barriers to inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming.
Many NGO Representatives indicated that with few resources and the need to drive other initiatives, focusing the attention of educators on broadcasting careers for students with disabilities might be a task best left to broadcasters.
As for the production sector, many NGO representatives indicated they did not feel well informed enough about what the production sector could or could not do to improve presence, portrayal and participation. Once again, NGO Representatives indicated a strong willingness to work with broadcasters on any initiatives addressing the production sector, but do not feel equipped to lead on this front.
Given a prevailing sense that the disability community and broadcasters need to “get to know each other better”, the predominant suggestions for a broadcaster toolkit focused on “getting started”.
Stakeholder Forum participants further noted that broadcasters are part of one, larger, connected industry. Full engagement of all partners within that infrastructure, including the independent production sector, is required in order to advance inclusion and effect change.
|Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB)|
|CAB Action Plan to Examine Issues Concerning the Presence, Portrayal and Participation of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming Submission to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, August 2004 www.cab-acr.ca|
|Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)|
|Public Notice 2004-4 Introduction to Broadcasting Decisions 2004-6 to 2004-27 renewing the licences of 22 specialty services www.crtc.gc.ca|
|Office of Disability Issues – Social Development Canada|
|Participation and Activity Limitation Survey www.sdc.gc.ca|
Advancing the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities www.sdc.gc.ca/en/gateways/nav/top_nav/program/odi.shtml
|Task Force for Cultural Diversity on Television|
|Reflecting Canadians: Best Practices for Cultural Diversity in Private Television Final Report www.cab-acr.ca|
As part of the qualitative research process, we reviewed Best Practices with a primary focus on broadcaster industry activities with communities of persons with disabilities in the United Kingdom and the United States, and industry-related activities in Canada.
In May 2002 the member organizations of the BCIDN committed to:
An e-leaflet that is designed to advise producers and directors about the various sources of disabled talent, and to guide persons with disabilities about how to make their skills and availability better known.
Handbook on Disability – A Practical Guide for Producers
Produced by BCIDN to help producers better cater for disabled people as program contributors and as members of studio audiences. Addresses issues that producers need to consider especially for people with visual or hearing impairments, or with mobility impairments.
Moving into the Spotlight
A short guide for casting directors, issued to U.K. Casting Directors.
Make a Difference – Ideas for including disabled people in broadcasting and film
A guide (published jointly by BCIDN and ITV) to highlight practical and realistic ways in which commissioners and program makers can work with persons with disabilities as colleagues, contributors and as members of the audience.
Adjusting the Picture – A Producer’s Guide to Disability
The most referenced guide, widely distributed and intended for program makers in all genres, including news, drama, light entertainment, children’s, public affairs and sports. (Jointly published by BCIDN and ITV.)
Website providing guidance for producers on finding and working with “disabled contributors”, including actors. Includes background on searching for disabled talent; financial support available through government; and legal issues.
Business in the Community (BITC) Awards for Excellence 2004
British Sky Broadcasting’s (BskyB) was presented with the Realizing Ability Award for its work in promoting understanding of disability issues and providing dedicated services for persons with disabilities.
The Knowledge – Disability Solutions for Employers
A “best-practice” reference kit highlighting the tools needed for an inclusive approach to employees with disabilities, and the benefits of taking an inclusive approach.
A comprehensive interactive training package on disability for business developed by the Employers’ Forum on Disabilities and Skill Boosters. It is an interactive multi-media e-learning resource to help managers and staff to become “disability confident”.
Provides online briefings on disability for leading business advisors. These briefings examine the disability dimension in key areas such as employment, labour standards, human rights, customer relations and the digital divide.
The Disability Standard
A tool that enables organizations to assess their performance on disability as it affects risk management, customer care, employment, occupational health, premises and the built environment, IT systems, accessibility of goods and services and the impact of government policy. As many as 78 organizations have participated in the Disability Standard.
CBS Diversity 2005-06 Talent Showcases
CBS Diversity Events
Abilities Foundation of Nova Scotia
Advocates for Sight Impaired Canadians
Alberta Paraplegic Association
John Rae, Kim Kilpatrick, Judy Smith
Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians
Association multi-éthnique pour l’integration des personnes handicapées
Association québecoise des étudiants ayant des incapacités au postsecondaire
B.C. Paraplegic Association
Canadian Association of Independent Living Centres
Canadian Association of the Deaf
Canadian Council of the Blind
Canadian Hearing Society
Canadian National Institute for the Blind
Canadian Paraplegic Association
Coalition of Persons with Disabilities ( Newfoundland and Labrador)
Conféderation des personnes handicapées du Québec
Council of Canadians with Disabilities
Learning Disabilities Association of Canada
National Educational Association of Disabled Students
National Network on Mental Health
Noel Browne, Nick Nash, Lannie Woodbine
Newfoundland and Labrador Paraplegic Association
PEI Council of the Disabled
Shelley Rattai, Paul Young
People First of Canada
Regroupement des aveugles et ambylopes du Québec
Astral Media Inc.
Bell Globemedia Inc.
Sarah Crawford, Mary Kramolc
Ruth Schrier, Joanna Webb, Stephanie Byrne
Barb Williams, David McCauley
Global Television Network
Québecor Media Inc.
Radio Nord Communications Inc.
Rogers Television (Omni)
Alliance of Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA)
Canadian Film and Television Producers Association
L’Association des réalisateurs et réalisatrices due Québec
Radio and Television News Directors Association
Union des Artistes
Writers Guild of Canada
Leesa Levinson, ACTRA Toronto
David Onley, Citytv
Lindsay Glassco, Amanda Scott
Social Development Canada, Office for Disability Issues
CONNECTUS Consulting Inc. (CONNECTUS) is pleased to present the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) with our Summary Report on the Stakeholder Forum held Friday, July 15, 2005 in Toronto.
The Stakeholder Forum is one of three core components comprising a qualitative research study on The Presence, Portrayal and Participation of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming. The other components are (i) a review of international and national Best Practices in the realm of broadcasting and persons with disabilities and (ii) consultations through detailed interviews with over 40 disability NGOs, broadcasting companies and related organizations.
We proposed the Stakeholder Forum as a day-long exchange of ideas and perspectives among representatives from the disability community, broadcasters and other organizations, such as related industry groups. We view the Forum as a strong alternative to holding separate focus groups across the country, and as an event that would centre on ideas about tools and initiatives for broadcasters in an inclusive, facilitated environment of discussion.
Our Report is organized as follows:
Individual representatives from twenty organizations and companies took part in the table discussion, while an additional 16 people from the disability community, broadcasting companies and government attended as observers. A list of Forum participants and observers is attached to this Report.
With input from the CAB Steering Committee and Outreach Committee8, the objectives of the Forum were identified as follows:
With additional input from the CAB Committees, the Desired Outcomes of the Forum were identified as:
Sarah Crawford, Chair of the CAB Steering Committee, chaired the Forum. Preliminary research findings were presented by Richard Cavanagh, Project Lead and Nancy Steele, Project Associate for CONNECTUS. Lil Krstic, Senior Consultant to the project and a Partner with CONNECTUS, facilitated the Forum.
During the presentation on preliminary research findings, opportunities that potentially arise from greater inclusiveness of persons with disabilities within broadcasting were identified and discussed. These included:
Further discussion on opportunities did not take place during the course of the Forum.
Following presentations on preliminary research findings, Forum participants discussed and then prioritized key issues and barriers respecting presence, portrayal and participation of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming.
Four tiers of priority issues and barriers emerged from this exercise, and are arranged below by the order in which they were emphasized or focused upon by participants.
Participants were inclined to view a lack of on-screen presence and subsequent lack of role models as important issues. Related barriers were identified in a similar fashion, including a lack of initiative on the part of the education system, and the generalized attitudes and myths about persons with disabilities that find their way into on-screen characterization.
Several issues were identified from consultations and presented to Forum participants, but did not receive any further discussion:
The evidence compiled at the Stakeholder Forum points to a very deep concern on the part of participants about portrayal issues, including appropriation of voice and stereotyping in dramatic programming, and sensitivity of language and depiction in news programming. This unequivocally supports the findings from the consultations process.
With respect to other portrayal issues, the single departure from evidence gathered through consultations concerns the role of beauty and image. While many respondents perceived a disadvantage to on-screen presence owing to physical appearance and/or use of assistive devices, this factor received far less emphasis among Forum participants and was actually viewed as irrelevant by several disability NGOs around the table.
A range of factors emerged with respect to participation in the industry, in a very similar fashion to the consultations. A number of issues and barriers were identified, including lack of role models, lack of support from the education sector, and accommodation-related concerns.
We also note a basic contradiction that emerged in the Forum discussions, with respect to the role of the production sector in the presence, portrayal and participation of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming. While “appropriation of voice” – especially in the creation of roles by writers – emerged as a critical issue, “resistance from the production sector” was not viewed as a fundamental issue or barrier.
Clearly, the creation of inaccurate roles/characters can be attributed at least in part to production sector activities or practices. The fact that participants did not make this link may be due to a lack of understanding about production sector operations in general.
The second part of the Forum focused on discussion and prioritization of potential tools and initiatives that broadcasters might consider in advancing the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the industry. The session was open to any and all suggestions derived through brainstorming, with an understanding that subsequently the CAB Steering Committee would consult with the CAB Outreach Committee to determine the most viable initiatives for broadcasters.
Participants were divided into four breakout groups (three English-language and one French-language) to brainstorm and then report back. Based on emphasis and focus of discussion, four tiers of preferred tools/initiatives were identified from this exercise. Overall, perspectives on potential tools/initiatives were more widely spread across a number of proposals.
Guidelines and industry standards were raised in most breakout groups as initiatives that could be developed through a cooperative effort by all stakeholders.
In addition to the above noted tools/initiatives, participants identified a number of potential strategies:
The discussion of tools and initiatives at the Forum identified some differences with consultations to date. For example, the development of standards or guidelines has not been raised with any frequency during the course of consultations, but received the highest weighting at the Forum.
Conversely, while education-related initiatives have received significant attention in the consultations, Forum participants did not view roles for the education sector as priority initiatives.
In addition, while appropriation of voice was ranked as the number one issue, increasing the number of persons with disabilities on-screen was rated highly as a strategy or tool. This may be due to the assumption that a commitment to increasing presence is a necessary starting point.
There is general agreement throughout the course of the research – almost as a fundamental starting point – that the broadcasting industry can play a significant role in changing public attitudes about persons with disabilities.
The following provides a summary of ideas/perspectives that were raised in the course of the Forum, either in discussion around the table, reporting from breakout groups, or in offline conversations during the day:
Comment on Measures of Success
"Suggestions for measures of success” was identified as a desired outcome of the Forum. However, there was a stated desire on the part of participants to spend more time discussing tools and initiatives. Therefore, the discussion on measures of success was delegated to the CAB Steering Committee that will seek advice and feedback from the Outreach Committee.
The CAB Stakeholder Forum provided a wealth of information that will make a significant contribution to the Study as a whole. To a large extent, evidence from the Forum supports and validates evidence derived throughout the research process to date. In other instances, the Forum discussion will guide the drafting of the Research Report in terms of how we will emphasize certain findings or priority issues and barriers, and will expand the contents of a potential toolkit for broadcasters.
The Stakeholder Forum proved to be a valuable and important addition to the qualitative range of research undertaken for this Study. While certain groups such as production organizations, French-language disability NGOs and a small number of English-language NGOs declined or were unable to attend the Forum, those in attendance were unanimous in their praise of and satisfaction with the session.
Consequently, we believe the Stakeholder Forum surpassed its promise and purpose, and the CONNECTUS team would like to extend its thanks to Susan Wheeler of the CAB, members of the JSIC Steering Committee, members of the Outreach Committee and all those who took the time to participate in this important event.
Richard Cavanagh , Project Lead
Lil Krstic, Senior Consultant and Forum Facilitator
July 19, 2005
Participants – Disability Non-government Organizations
Jihan Abbas – Canadian Association of Independent Living Centres
Richard Lavigne – Confédération des organismes de personnes handicapées du Québec
Gary Malkowski – Canadian Hearing Society
Constance McNight – National Network for Mental Health
Teresa Penafiel – Association multiethnique pour l'intégration des personnes handicapées
John Rae – Council of Canadians with Disabilities
Rachael Ross – National Educational Association of Disabled Students
Jim Sanders – Canadian National Institute for the Blind
Rob Sleath – Advocates for Sight Impaired Consumers
Diane Sullivan –Learning Disabilities Association of Canada
Devon Wilkins – Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians
Paul Young – People First of Canada
Participants – Broadcaster and Related Industry Representatives
Sarah Crawford – CHUM Limited and Chair, CAB Steering Cttee
Jean-Pierre Laurendeau – Canal D
Leesa Levinson – ACTRA
Don Peuramaki – Fireweed Media Productions
Terry Scott – RTNDA
Fiona Sterling – Bell Globemedia Inc.
Bonita Siegel – Corus Entertainment Inc.
Renato Zane – OMNI Television Inc.
Observers – Disability Non-government Organizations
Shelley Rattai – People First of Canada
Chloe Serradori – Confédération des personnes handicapées du Québec
Observers – Outreach Committee
Gavin Lumsden – Rogers Television
Janus Raudkivi – Journalist
Enza Ronaldi – Accessibility Advisory Council of Ontario
Patrick Tanguay – Canadian Space Agency
Observers – CAB Members
Kent Brown – APTN
Kim Carter – Alliance Atlantis
Melanie Farrell – OMNI
Mary Kramolc – CHUM Limited
Jon Medline – Global Television Network
Mark Prasuhn – VisionTV
Ruth Schreier – CORUS Entertainment Inc.
Observers – Other
Marie-Claude Mentor – CRTC
Martine Vallée – CRTC
Amanda Scott – Office for Disability Issues
Richard Cavanagh , CONNECTUS Consulting
Lil Krstic, CONNECTUS Consulting
Nancy Steele, CONNECTUS Consulting
Susan Wheeler , Canadian Association of Broadcasters
Respondents in one-on-one consultations and participants in the Stakeholder Forum identified a number of issues about the presence, portrayal and participation of persons with disabilities that were beyond the scope of this research.
The research team received a number of comments about barriers to the participation of persons with sensory disabilities as consumers of television programming. These comments included:
While advertising content respecting the presence, portrayal and participation of persons with disabilities was beyond the scope of the study, a number of Study participants identified issues and concerns, including:
While the focus of this Study was on television, a number of Study participants expressed their interest in seeing the development of research and/or initiatives by commercial radio pertaining to inclusion of persons with disabilities in that industry. Among the comments received:
Richard Cavanagh was Project Lead for the Study and authored the Final Report. He has extensive past experience in research and analysis in public/social policy, communications and media studies, and authored the 2004 Report of the Task Force for Cultural Diversity on Television.
Mr. Cavanagh holds an M.A. in Sociology from Queen’s University, and a PhD in Social Sciences from Carleton University.
Lil Krstic was Senior Consultant for the Study. Ms. Krstic is a widely recognized leader in strategic planning and executive facilitation, and was our team’s lead expert on disability issues. Ms. Krstic developed and facilitated the CAB Stakeholder Forum that formed a core part of the Study.
Ms. Krstic holds a B.Comm from the University of Alberta.
Nancy Steele was Associate Consultant for the Study. With extensive experience in disability issues and qualitative research, Ms. Steele conducted a number of consultations and led our event planning for the CAB Stakeholder Forum.
Ms. Steele holds a B.A. from Carleton University and a B.Ed. from McGill University.
CONNECTUS Consulting Inc.
5261 Driscoll Drive
Manotick , Ontario
Tel: (613) 692-8154
Fax: (613) 692-3705
1 Adapted from Participation and Activity Limitation Survey, 2001; www.sdc.gc.ca provides the entire report. The survey is to be replicated and updated following the 2006 national census.
4 This section is based on (i) findings from the consultations undertaken for this Study, (ii) “Advancing the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities 2004” as noted in Footnote 3, and (iii) the CAB Action Plan to Examine Issues Concerning the Presence, Portrayal and Participation of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming Programming (August 2004).
6 The Media Access Office is described in Appendix A on Best Practices. It is part of the California Governor’s Committee on Employment for Persons with Disabilities (Inc.) and is funded by the state’s Employment Development Department and by a not-for-profit “Friends of the Committee” corporation that engages in traditional types of fundraising activities.
8 The CAB Steering Committee is a Sub-committee of the Joint Societal Issues Committee, and is directing the Study on behalf of the CAB membership. The CAB Outreach Committee is an external group comprised of persons with disabilities, many of whom have direct experience in broadcasting and production. The Outreach Committee was formed prior to the Forum and will be reviewing subsequent Research Reports and providing feedback and advice to the CAB Steering Committee.
9 The Media Access Office is part of the California Governor's Committee on Employment for Persons with Disabilities (Inc.) and is funded by the state's Employment Development Department and by a not-for-profit "Friends of the Committee" corporation that engages in traditional types of fundraising activities.