PICTURED: Actress Sarah Gordy says: “There needs to be more opportunities for actors with a learning disability to show their talents.”
LEARNING disability charity Mencap has led a call to the TV and film industries to ‘embrace diversity’ and increase the numbers of disabled actors on the screen.
In an open letter to the Guardian newspaper, campaigners said: “Diversity has long been an issue at the Oscars. Last year’s #OscarsSoWhite campaign highlighted the lack of racial diversity. But still, disability has been overlooked in this debate, with even less of a voice for people with a learning disability.
“The pool of talent amongst actors with a learning disability grows every year, with some receiving critical acclaim. But, for the few roles that do show disability on screen, actors with disabilities are still overlooked. Statistics show 16% of Oscars are awarded to non-disabled actors playing a disabled character.
“Just 12% of the public say they have seen someone with a learning disability in a film.
“Hollywood has the power to shape attitudes and challenge our own perceptions. It’s time for the diversity debate to embrace diversity itself, and begin a new era for the currently unearthed and overlooked pool of growing talent amongst actors with a learning disability.”
Mencap’s head of campaigns, Rossanna Trudgian, said: “The lack of representation of learning disability on screen means that people with a learning disability remain largely unseen, ignored and often excluded from society.
“Research shows that there is still a widespread lack of understanding in society of what a learning disability is. We know that seeing actors on screen helps to change attitudes and improve understanding.
“We need to see more opportunities for actors with a learning disability so we, as a society, can finally build a more inclusive society.”
Actress Sarah Gordy, who has Down’s syndrome and who appeared in BBC’s Call the Midwife, added: “When I started acting, directors and producers thought that I wouldn’t be able to play the parts or that I would hold up the schedule because of my learning disability.
“But once they have worked with me, they know I can do it.
“Writers, directors and producers need to be more creative with their roles for disabled actors, and there needs to be more opportunities for actors with a learning disability to show their talents.”
Backing the campaign so far are:
Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap
Ben Higgins, chief executive of BILD
Neil Heslop, chief executive of Leonard Cheshire Disability
Sarah Gordy, actress with Down’s syndrome
Steven Brandon, actor with Down’s syndrome
Jodie Whittaker, actress
Ty Glaser, actress
Kellie Shirley, actress
James Rumsey, producer of My Feral Heart
Jane Gull, director of My Feral Heart
Duncan Paveling, writer of My Feral Heart
Mark Nutkins, cinematographer
Carl Mackenzie, producer
Pixie Le Knot, The Girl in ‘My Feral Heart’ and the UK’s leading contortionist
Tim Bentinck, actor
Nick Llewellyn, Access All Areas theatre company
Patrick Collier, Executive Producer, Access All Areas theatre company
Clare Williams, chief executive of Hijinx Theatre
Law Ballard, actress and artistic director at Actors temple
Gill Broderick – Actress
Mark Wakeling – Actor, producer & founder of Artistic Temple
Susie Tullett, film publicist