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What’s on your TV?

How is disability presented on screen? Dive into some research, then add a new disabled character to your favourite TV show.
Plan a session with this activity

You will need

  • Pens or pencils
  • Scrap paper
  • Access to the internet

Before you begin

  • Decide which characters you’ll use as examples. We’ve included some examples of TV shows with disabled characters and some links to clips. Feel free to choose your own too; Bob has an archive of programmes that can be viewed for educational purposes.
  • Refresh your knowledge about disabilities, so you feel confident leading the discussion. The Citizens Advice Service has some information about what counts as a disability on their website. If you want to dive into an issue in depth, there’s information and guidance on the Equality Act 2010 on the government website.
  • Make sure you know what language to use when talking about disability. The National Centre on Disability and Journalism have a language guide, which is a useful place to start. In the UK, we follow the National Autistic Society to use ‘autistic people’ as an umbrella term and we say ‘disabled people’ too.

Examples of disabled characters

 

Watch and learn

  1. Everyone should try to think of some examples of disabled characters in TV shows.
  2. The person leading the activity should tell everyone that the GLAAD found that in America, ‘the amount of regular primetime broadcast characters counted who have a disability has increased to 3.1 percent, which is a record-high percentage but that number still vastly underrepresents the actualities of Americans with disabilities.’
  1. Everyone should chat about what they think about GLAAD’s finding. Is it OK? Why might it be a problem?
  2. Everyone should the representation of disabled people in TV shows in general. They should think about who plays disabled characters and what their storylines are like.
  1. The person leading the activity should show everyone some clips of shows that feature disabled characters and give people any context they need to understand what’s going on.
  2. Everyone should talk about the examples of representation in the clips they watched. They should try to identify what the examples did well, and where they could’ve done better.

 

Plan your pitch

  1. Everyone should split into small groups. Each group should find a space to chat with internet access, and grab some paper and pens or pencils on the way.
  1. Each group should decide which TV show they’ll revamp. They can choose any genre: cartoon, soap opera, sci-fi, teen sitcom, comedy, period drama, or detective series.
  1. Each group should decide how they’ll (briefly) explain the TV show to everyone else. They should decide on a few sentences that give everyone the context they need.
  2. Each group should start to design their new character.
  1. The person leading the activity should help everyone notice that they’ve created rounded characters before thinking about what disability or condition they might have. People should think about why this is important.
  1. Everyone should choose how their character is disabled. It’s up to them what they choose – people are disabled in lots of different ways.
  2. Each group should work together to think about how they’ll make sure their character’s disability is portrayed accurately.
  1. Each group should decide how they’ll explain all of their decisions in their pitch. They should finish off any supporting materials (like storyboards or mindmaps) and decide who’ll say what.

 

Share your storylines

  1. The first group should pitch their new character. They should start by briefly explaining the show they chose, then introduce their new character and how they’ll be portrayed.
  2. Everyone else should ask any questions they have.
  3. Each of the groups should take it in turns to present their characters and answer people’s questions.

Reflection

This activity was all about exploring how TV shows portray disability. How accurate were the portrayals of disability in the example clips? Did any shows manage to do it well? Was there any misrepresentation? Do people think any of the shows paid disabled people to act as consultants or advisors? How else could people involved in making TV shows show that they respect disabled people?

This activity needed people to care about others and how they’re affected by representation. Why is it important that disabled people are represented on TV? People might think about how it’s important to see yourself represented – Judith Heumann (a disabilities rights activity) said that ‘people need to see themselves. People with disabilities, like any other group – when you don’t see yourself, you feel invisible’. How can good representation make things in real life easier for disabled people? People might think about how TV shows can tackle misconceptions and remove stigma.

Safety

Online safety

Supervise young people when they’re online and give them advice about staying safe.

For more support around online safety or bullying, check out the NSPCC website. If you want to know more about specific social networks and games, Childnet has information and safety tips for apps. You can also report anything that’s worried you online to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection command.

As always, if you’ve got concerns about a young person’s welfare (including their online experiences), follow the Yellow Card reporting processes.

Music and films

Make sure music and films are age appropriate for the youngest person present.

All activities must be safely managed. Do a risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Always get approval for the activity and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.