Media Trust unites media industry and disability charities to reframe the conversation

Posted 31 October 2019

Media Trust’s Reframing Disability summit on Monday brought together some of the biggest names in media and advertising with leading disability charities to look at how the representation of disabled people across television, advertising and journalism can be improved.

Sponsored by Channel 4 and organised by Media Trust in partnership with Disability Rights UK, Scope and ELVIS, the event, which took place at Google’s Academy London, brought together leading disability charities including Access Sport, Inclusion London and National Autistic Society with media organisations including the BBC, BBH, Buzzfeed, CNN, ELVIS, MediaCom, Omnicom group, Weber Shandwick and Wavemaker to discuss how progress can be made on issues around representation, awareness, access and countering stigma.

The event kicked off with presentations from Media Trust CEO Su-Mei Thompson, Sue Bott – Deputy Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK, James Taylor – Head of Policy, Public Affairs and Campaigns at Scope and Emma Gardner – Managing Partner at agency, ELVIS.

Changing the narrative

Sue Bott of Disability Rights UK spoke of the social structures and attitudes that hold disabled people back and called for a change in the mainstream media narrative, saying: “It seems we disabled can’t win in the media sometimes – we’re either super-heroes or scroungers.  Of course, the overwhelming majority of the 13.9 million disabled people in the UK are neither of these. For that reason, I’m really excited about how this event is bringing together people working in the media with disability charities and disabled people to develop a new narrative to reflect the people we really are.”

Emma Gardner of ELVIS urged the media and advertising industry to put disability on their board agendas: “There’s been plenty of talk about these issues but now it’s time for agencies, media owners and charities to come together to agree some clearly defined concrete actions in order to create a step change in how we see disabled people in the media.”

It seems we disabled can’t win in the media sometimes – we’re either super-heroes or scroungers

Sue Bott, Deputy Chief Executive, Disability Rights UK

James Taylor of Scope shared the charity’s research findings into British attitudes towards disability, which found two-thirds of British people feel awkward around disability. He believes that the media can play a big part in changing attitudes: “Reforming the media industry so that disabled people are equally represented and equally visible would help raise awareness among people who otherwise might have no known contact with disabled people.”


Delegates were then split into breakout groups for facilitated discussions on a range of issues, from improving the representation of disabled people on and off screen in film, television programming and broadcast news, to recruitment, to the role advertising and brands can play in positively influencing societal attitudes and behaviours and de-stigmatising disability.

Each group was then invited to feed back the key observations and recommendations from their discussions. It was clear that every single group felt incredibly passionate about the need for change and attendees from the media and creative industries, many of whom had little prior experience of disability issues, said they would be taking back the discussions to share with their organisations and colleagues.

We’re hoping today will be the start of concerted and collaborative action on the part of the media and creative sector to reframe how disability is represented in the media.

Su-Mei Thompson, CEO, Media Trust

Starting a real and honest conversation

For Media Trust, the day was very much just the start of a longer journey. Media Trust CEO, Su-Mei Thompson said: “We are so encouraged by the energy and enthusiasm on the part of everyone who came today but we aren’t underestimating how challenging it will be to achieve the kind of progress we’d like to see – it’s clear we need systemic change, not just one or two examples of great ads or disabled presenters or dramas featuring disabled actors. We’re hoping today will be the start of concerted and collaborative action on the part of the media and creative sector to reframe how disability is represented in the media.”

Media Trust is now going to analyse and summarise all the feedback which we will share more broadly in due course. We are also excited about continuing the journey we’ve started of listening to and consulting with all stakeholders to ensure we reframe disability in the media in partnership with people with lived experience.

Thank you to all of the delegates who took part in Monday’s summit who included representatives from these charities: Access Sports, Aspire, Challengers, Disability Rights UK, Dystonia UK, Ealing Mencap, Inclusion London, National Autistic Society, Remap, Scope, SEAP Advocacy, Stopgap Dance Company, Thera Trust, Three Cs, Trust for London, UnLtd, Wheels for Wellbeing and Young Epilepsy, as well as the representatives from these media organisations: the BBC, BBH, Buzzfeed, Channel 4, CNN International, Creative Brief, DMG Media, Elvis, Facebook, Google, ITV, MediaCom, Omnicom, Transform & Communicate, Turner, Twitter, Wavemaker, Weber Shandwick and Zoonou. 


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