BAFTA-winning writer Jack Thorne, the mind behind Enola Holmes, This is England, and His Dark Materials was at the Edinburgh TV Festival delivering the annual James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture when he said, “Disability is the forgotten diversity, the one everyone leaves out of speeches.”

Thorne went on to say in his address, “Gender, race, sexuality, all rightly get discussed at length. Disability gets relegated out. Producers have ignored disabled writers. Commissioners haven’t taken the opportunity to tell disabled stories. There are very few disabled people in front of the camera, and even fewer behind it.”

He said, “TV has failed disabled people. Utterly and totally.”

Thorne's message was clear, “because the TV world is stacked against the telling of disabled stories with disabled talent. And that has to change."

He also said he has personal friends with disabilities who he's seen suffer on sets. The locations might not be accessible for them, and they don't get the same opportunities as other people, putting them in uncomfortable and hard positions. He even saw a person's role reduced in front of him. 

 “I should have shown what this actor needed—solidarity," he said. "I did pathetically little. Another actor was cast and my friend’s part trimmed to almost nothing. They later wrote to me ‘in making those choices, you… relegated the only meaningful disabled actor to the background.’ And I tell you, the shame of that...”

When it comes to representation on screen, Thorne thinks we need quotas in order to see actual change. 

“Firm quotas behind and in front of the camera would fundamentally alter the stories being told," he said. "And these quotas need to be everywhere. Because change is required throughout our sector, not just in the making portion. Crucially it needs to be in drama schools and training institutions.”

His reasoning has to do with statistics. If 20% of the population of the United Kingdom is disabled, but we see only about 8% disabled characters and only 5% working behind the scenes on TV, it means we aren't getting the best stories. 

He also said he believes that non-disabled actors should not be cast in the roles of disabled characters, pointing specifically to the film Come As You Are as problematic.

Thorne thinks this got worse with COVID.

“I think this last year has been about cowardice," he said. "The ignoring of the disabled experience. The ignoring of the unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands, and the time has come for TV to change. To reflect the experience of millions, and to protect—to some degree—these millions through empathy. To do this, requires bravery on all our parts.”

Here's hoping Hollywood can be brave alongside the BBC and other film and television companies. 

What do you think can be done to increase representation in front of and behind the camera?