Coronation Street star Cherylee Houston and Julie Fernandez of The Office are backing a new bid to get more disabled talent and crew working in UK television.
An initiative announced today will train people in a new job role of accessibility coordinators which will support the hiring and working life of disabled professionals in TV.
National skills charity ScreenSkills will use industry contributions to its High-end TV Skills Fund to help roll out the role which was a key recommendation of a report from the Underlying Health Condition (UHC) disabled-led pressure group.
The collaboration announced today between UHC, which was set up to address accessibility in the TV industry, and ScreenSkills means up to a dozen coordinators should be trained and available by the end of the year.
Training for accessibility coordinators will be delivered by co-leads Julie Fernandez, actress (The Office) and disability creative consultant, and Sara Johnson through Sara’s company Bridge06, which has been working with Underlying Health Condition on the initiative.
Coronation Streeet actress Cherylee Houston, one of the artistic directors and founders of DANC, (the Disabled Artists Networking Community),said: “I’m so pleased that this is finally happening – the need for accessibility coordinators has been talked about in the creative disabled community for many years. What’s so exciting about this project is that it has lived experience at the forefront, in both Julie’s many years of experience and Sara’s production and disability advocate background.
“This has been the main talking point of our DANC (Disabled Artists Networking Community) focus groups since they began and we’re building this gathered knowledge into a wider body of work across our community. Finally deaf, disabled and neurodivergent talent in TV won’t have to educate everyone around them on disability and access – they will simply be able to do their job!”
Accessibility coordinators will support productions in hiring and working with disabled talent and crew and support disabled professionals to work well and safely, with dignity.
As outlined in the UHC report, Everybody forgot about the toilets, at launch in December, the intention is for accessibility coordinators to be brought on from greenlight to provide direction and support to the production on the content, production base, studio and locations. They will then continue to work with heads of department, crew and talent as required to ensure there are no barriers to access for disabled crew and talent .
Jack Thorne, the screenwriter behind hit TV series including His Dark Materials and who raised issues facing disabled talent in his MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival last summer, is one of the founders of Underlying Health Condition with actor and writer Genevieve Barr, production manager Katie Player and producer Holly Lubran.
He said: “ScreenSkills have been changing our industry for a very long time and to have them turn their attention to this means so much. Access coordinators are long overdue – a fifth of the population are disabled and, as the Creative Diversity Network figures show, that number is not reflected in the make-up of TV professionals.
“Intimacy and Covid coordinators have lit the path for positions like these to be recognised as essential. We must tell more disabled stories and we must empower more disabled people to tell them. The role of accessibility coordinator is vital, and will support both busy productions and the industry in making the changes needed. At UHC, we are so excited and grateful to ScreenSkills, Julie, Sara and Bridge06 for starting what will be a long road to a beautiful destination.”
Kaye Elliott, ScreenSkills Director of High-end Television, said: “We hope that by supporting the training of accessibility coordinators, we can empower the industry to become more confident in working with disabled talent and crew. I know productions will embrace the opportunity to access a dedicated individual who can help to identify needs and support the implementation of the logistics to make everything work well – to the benefit of the production, disabled professionals and the industry at large. We are incredibly proud to be working with Jack, Katie and the team at Bridge06 to be able to deliver this much-needed training. ”
Julie Fernandez and Sara Johnson said: “We are so proud to be partnering with ScreenSkills to bring to life UHC’s recommendation, by introducing this vital and long needed role into the high-end TV production industry. We’ve already begun to research a combination of production practicalities and disability access requirements, which will lead to a gold standard course for our first cohort of trainees.
“The Purple Pound is worth £279 billion a year in the UK alone. Disabled people are incredibly creative and have by their very nature as disabled people, had to think outside the box, which makes them great employees with a powerful voice. The dream is to build an army of educated allies through the accessibility coordinator role, further cementing inclusion into the industry through this simple and obvious step to big systemic change.”
Details of how to apply to take the training will be announced – on the ScreenSkills website, in newsletters and social media – in late April for training to run across June and July.
The High-end TV Skills Fund also has a bursary pot in place available for disabled crew to secure funds for accessibility requirements that can support individuals gain future work in screen.
ScreenSkills is the industry-led skills body for the screen industries – film, television (including children’s, unscripted and high-end), VFX (visual effects), animation and games.
We are supporting continued growth and future innovation across the nations and regions by investing in the skilled and inclusive workforce who are critical to the UK screen industries’ global success.
We are funded by industry contributions to our Skills Funds – Animation, Children’s TV, Film, High-end TV and Unscripted, by the BFI awarding National Lottery funds to deliver the BFI’s Future Film Skills strategy and Arts Council England.