The representation and portrayal of people with disabilities on analogue terrestrial television

13 December 2005

Executive summary

1.1 Estimates of the proportion of people with disabilities in the UK population range between 14 and 19%. In 2004, 12% of sampled programmes (on BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4 and Five) included representations of people with disabilities. However less than 1 person/character in 100 in the sampled programmes overall had a disability.

1.2 Both these measures provide evidence of under-representation on analogue terrestrial television of people with disabilities in 2004.

1.3 Repeat appearances by the same person/character constitute around a quarter of all representations on television of people with disabilities.

1.4 The proportion of people/characters with disabilities fulfilling incidental roles in the sampled programmes has increased since 2002. However the proportion of people/characters with disabilities fulfilling major roles in the sampled programmes has decreased. The proportion of people/characters with disabilities fulfilling minor roles has remained relatively stable over the years.

1.5 The most commonly represented disabilities in the sampled programmes have generally been those that are most easily recognised (mobility, sensory impairment and disfigurement/physical impairment).

1.6 Roles filled by people/actors with disabilities were more commonly those of children and retired people, both of which can be associated with vulnerability. This may reflect stereotyping in on-screen portrayals of people with disabilities. The high representation of people with disabilities in political roles is largely attributable to appearances by the former Home Secretary, David Blunkett.

1.7 Analyses of 2004 data showed a slight reduction in the proportion of representations of people/characters with disabilities considered to highlight issues of stereotyping, discrimination or prejudice.

1.8 Disability was ‘central’ or ‘relevant’ to the majority of representations of people/characters with disabilities in sampled programmes for 2004, a finding consistent with previous years’ analyses.

1.9 Finally we have noted some important caveats in relation to the methodology used in the research reported here.  Perhaps the most important is the constraints of analysing only a sample of programmes, in this case it is sample of programmes broadcast in peak time viewing slots over two weeks a year.  Also only broadcast programmes are included in the analysis (not trailer, idents and advertisements.)  Therefore as a result of these constraints, the methodology may not pick up positive examples of representation of people with disabilities that do appear on screen but not in programmes.

Full Report

The representation and portrayal of people with disabilities on analogue terrestrial television (PDF, 102.0 KB)