Published on: 14 April 2021 in Directors UK

Directors UK Disability Working Group: Ask Us Anything – what we learned

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On 31 March, our disability working group ran a Q&A session titled Ask Us Anything.

The session was developed to help our members support greater inclusivity in production by dispelling some of the fears that non-disabled people have about working with deaf and disabled colleagues. 

The session explored the shift in the production environment to attract disabled talent and crew, looked at the experience of being a deaf or disabled director and the craft of being director working with disabled crew, contributors and talent.  

Our panel discussed their experiences, and fielded questions from attendees. Scroll below for a brief summary of what we learned: 

On being a disabled director

  • There’s understandably anxiety about disclosing a disability on a job. You may feel more comfortable about disclosing once the contract is signed and sometimes you may have to disclose on an insurance form, but ultimately the decision to disclose or not is yours. If your disability is invisible, consider if there is a benefit to disclosing
  • Being a director with a disability, you are viewed as someone that has sensitivities built into the way you work that makes it particularly inclusive and cohesive. As a result, you’re often hired to create the more interesting stories involving disabled people.  
  • Disabled directors can also get nervous about how to work with other disabled people with different conditions. 
  • If you are a disabled director using a support worker and colleagues are addressing their comments and questions around the production to them and not you, never hesitate to push back on this firmly and politely.

On working with disabled colleagues, contributors and cast

  • There is a fear that hiring disabled talent will impact productivity, but by asking everyone how things can be better, productivity should increase.
  • Many of us worry about asking our disabled colleagues the wrong questions, or using the wrong language or that we’ll cause offense. Asking is better than assuming, and it’s OK to get it wrong.
  • How do you ask access questions? It's your job to know what everyone on the crew needs in order to give you their best work, so ask everyone “What can I do to help you work at your best?” That gives all your team the opportunity to speak up if they want to.
  • If your disabled colleague, contributor or performer has a support person with them, address your direction and feedback to the disabled person, not the support worker.
  • Not all disabilities are visible, so try not to make any assumptions about your team.
  • When meeting your colleagues, contributors and cast for the first time in person or on a zoom call, briefly describe how you look. Don’t assume everyone can see you.  
  • Some contributors and cast can find directors a bit intimidating. You already work to put people at their ease - finding out what a deaf or disabled person needs to feel comfortable is part of that same process.
  • Most requests for adjustments for disabled cast and crew will be straightforward. Others might be more complex - such as needing specialist software, equipment or a support person, but these are things the disabled person will source themselves through the Access to Work scheme
  • Working with disabled colleagues develops your skillset for the next job and creates a more mindful production team. 
  • You wouldn’t physically move non-disabled actors around to ‘help’ them, so don’t do that to your deaf or disabled actors.
  • If you find you are getting notes from an exec that perpetuates negative ableist tropes, push back on this with your own opinion of the ableist material. It’s part of the director’s role to express their opinions on script, and if material is ableist it’s part of the director's function to let the producer or writer know that the material is ableist, and try and find a solution in a positive and constructive manner.  
  • Shooting film or TV can be a pressured environment and it’s easy to get impatient if someone needs a few extra moments to process a piece of direction, to move to a different position, or adapt to a sudden change of the shooting schedule. Try to be mindful of the requests you make.   

On building an inclusive industry

  • Inclusion is about disabled people being integrated into everyday production, where we all make works that explore our shared stories of life. 
  • Diversity agendas for UK production have been published by broadcasters and targets for on and off-screen disability will need to be met by producers. We don’t know yet how these will support mid-career creatives into jobs and career progression.  
  • To build inclusion, senior hirers such as directors need be on board with getting disabled creatives hired. The more we champion these colleagues and work with them the better our knowledge of disability will be, and the richer the creative output.
  • Companies are making positive noises around diversity and inclusion, but the proof really is in the pudding — they need to engage disabled talent in jobs, and senior roles, such as directors, producers and HODs are vital. Disabled talent understand disability, and have unique perspectives. However don’t just engage disabled directors to tell disabled stories, we have a whole world of unique perspectives to offer.  
  • Subtitles on your show or film should not be an afterthought. Integrate them into the pack of deliverables that is given broadcasters, distributors and VOD platforms.
  • One thing that is rarely mentioned is the vast economic argument for having disabled people on screen and behind the camera. Up to 20 per cent of the population identify as disabled, and they have a vast spending power. They want to see themselves represented on screen, and will pay to see that.    

We’d like to thank our panel and everyone who attended and submitted their questions. If you are interested in the disability working group and would like to be involved, please let email us at voice@directors.uk.com.

Additional resources: 

Production disability statistics from UK broadcasters.

BFI reporting on disability levels on the films they fund

Filmmaking resources — FWD-DOC: Documentary Filmmakers With Disabilities (fwd-doc.org).

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