Why are disabled workers facing increasing barriers in TV and media?
Each generation should progress in terms of equality, healthcare, longevity and living standards.
In the second decade of the 21 st century, it is astonishing that disabled workers are still fighting for their rights. And disturbing that in some sectors, disabled people in the UK are facing increased barriers to the life they deserve.
Disabled workers say that they face enormous barriers in new report
More than half of the people who responded to the survey report a number of fundamental issues surrounding logistics, travel and practicalities. These include being unable to drive or use certain equipment and tech due to their disability.
The most damning statistic from the report shows that in excess of 80% of respondents say that their disability has negatively impacted their careers. In addition, 77% say that their disability has limited their career options and chances of progression in the sector.
Are employers doing enough to support the disabled community?
More disturbingly, the report shows a systemic lack of support from employers within the sector. Respondents cite a sometimes-total absence of understanding from employers about the kinds of adjustments that disabled workers need.
The survey included 86 disabled professionals working in TV in the UK, spanning many different positions. These range from development managers and executives to producers. Many of the respondents have been working in the industry for at least ten years.
Respondents to the survey also hail from a wide range of genres with television, encompassing entertainment, the news and current affairs. Their experience in the industry gives their opinions a high level of gravitas, as they have been witness to changes over a timeframe where it could be reasonably expected that conditions would improve, not disintegrate, for disabled employees.
As a professional who lives with a physical disability, I have campaigned for years for working conditions across all industry sectors in the UK to improve for disabled people. There is no excuse for employers who continue to turn a blind eye to the struggles of a significant part of their workforce.
What needs to change for disabled employees in the UK?
Recommendations that have come from the report data include the urgent need for a system of adjustments across the entire TV industry.
Evidence from the report may surprise some employers in the sector — and anyone else who works in a professional capacity. Particularly striking is the fact that many different people are consistently and repeatedly telling the same kinds of stories. What’s more, many of the negative experiences could have been avoided with very simple solutions.
There is no reason that I can see that managers and employers cannot make the necessary changes so that their disabled employees can get on with their jobs. This is where the prevalence of barriers to business for disabled people make so little sense. Ultimately, employers are only harming themselves and their own creativity and profitability by making life difficult for disabled people who just want to bring their skills to the sector.
Are employers following their legal obligations?
A representative from the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity, Marcus Ryder MBE, told Sky that he welcomes the report, saying it is… “… a necessary and timely contribution to the debate on how we increase diversity and inclusion in the TV industry for disabled people. It demonstrates a shocking basic lack of understanding of people’s legal rights. This then holds people’s careers back.”
And it is this lack of understanding that particularly concerns me — not just in the TV industry. This is a common problem across all sectors in the UK, despite all of the work carried out by activists and campaigners (and in some cases politicians and industry leaders) to make profound changes for disabled workers.
It is 11 years since the Equality Act of 2010 was implemented, covering the legal obligations for employers. The Act combined a number of previously separate equality laws in a bid to streamline and improve people’s understanding.
- Regardless of the size of the company or organisation.
- Regardless of the industry sector.
- Regardless of how many people have been previously employed.
- Regardless of the formality (or not) of the application process.
What do employers need to be aware of?
Here are some of the basic employer responsibilities under the Act, which applies to England, Wales and Scotland.
Anyone who is recruiting someone to work for them is subject to the Equality laws. This applies:
As well as disability, these cover age, gender, gender reassignment, pregnancy, maternity, race, religion, belief, sex and sexual orientation.
When employing someone, employers cannot legally treat one applicant in a discriminatory way based on a protected characteristic. For example, a common problem faced by disabled people when applying for jobs is the requirement for them to drive.
If an applicant cannot drive due their disability, then employers must make reasonable adjustment for the applicant by finding alternative ways for the person to travel to appointments or meetings. The employer must be able to demonstrate that a demand for a driver can be objectively justified. If they cannot do this, they could be found to be unlawfully discriminating against those who can’t drive due to disability.
Employers cannot treat a disabled job applicant negatively because of their disability if they cannot prove that it is objectively justified. Of course, this can only apply if the employer is made aware that the applicant is disabled.
An example is where an employer refuses a visually impaired applicant on the basis that they would need to bring an assistance dog into the office. Again, if the employer cannot prove this is objectively justified and not solely because, for example, they just don’t like dogs, then this is likely to be construed as discrimination arising from disability.
More employers and business leaders must make reasonable adjustments
- Treat an employee worse because they are disabled, or because of any other protected characteristic.
- Do something (ie. make a decision or bring in a new rule) that would have a worse impact on a disabled worker than on others. Employers must prove that the action is objectively justified, otherwise it is indirect discrimination.
- Treat a disabled worker unfavourably because of their disability, or because of something connected to their disability, called discrimination arising from disability.
- Treat an employee worse because they are linked with someone who has protected characteristic. For example, treating parents of disabled children differently to parents of non-disabled children.
- Treat an employee worse because they perceive that the worker has a protected characteristic.
Reasonable adjustments must be made for the disabled job applicant, and on an ongoing basis for a disabled employee. In my experience, this is a consistent blind spot for many employers, who either don’t fully understand their obligations or who don’t want to invest in disabled employees.
Making reasonable adjustments to an interview appointment or a workspace is about ensuring the disabled person has the same access as a non-disabled applicant or employee. For example, providing information in alternative formats, or ensuring doorways can accommodate wheelchairs.
Unlawful discrimination takes various different forms. Employers cannot:
Making reasonable adjustments is the duty of all employers. They should be proactive about removing barriers for disabled employees and ensuring that their accessibility matches non-disabled workers.
As we can see from the report discussed, this is not happening as much as it should. We need the Government and business leaders to lead by example and actively improve life for disabled workers.