The Disability on Screen Network (DOSN) brings together academic researchers, media professionals, film industry practitioners and disability activists to explore the ways in which cinema, television and other screen media reflect, and shape, subjective and objective experiences of impairment and disability. Our aims are to facilitate conversation and debate both within and beyond the network, with a particular emphasis on developing productive dialogue between academic communities, media professionals, and disability groups.
The network emerged from the inaugural “Rethinking Disability on Screen” Symposium held on 14th May, 2015 at the Humanities Research Centre, University of York. This one-day event, attended by speakers and delegates from a variety of backgrounds, re-examined representations of disability on screen and their contributions to ongoing cultural, social, economic and political debates surrounding disability. A summary of the event, along with images and recordings from the day itself, are available to view here.
In recent years, writers and filmmakers working on the big and small screens have increasingly turned their attentions to disability. The year 2012 saw an explosion of disability-focused film and TV programming in the UK and beyond, as mainstream films such as Untouchable, Rust and Bone and The Sessions met with both critical acclaim and commercial success, together with Channel 4’s TV coverage of the London-hosted Paralympics.
Since then, UK broadcasters have announced their renewed commitment to diversifying representations of disability on screen, and to the recruitment and training of disabled talent within the industry. In January 2015, Channel 4 announced that it will invest in two major talent initiatives to ensure that 10% of the production team working on coverage of the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games are people with disabilities.
In June of the same year, Alison Walsh was appointed to the role of new pan-BBC Disability Executive, responsible for the improved commissioning, programming and portrayal of disabled people. The corporation aims to quadruple on-air representation and/or portrayal of disabled talent from 1.2% to 5% by 2017, and to expand its award-winning Extend training programme, supporting disabled people in production roles.
Meanwhile, a growing number of production companies, independent filmmakers and creative arts organisations are pushing back the boundaries in screen representations of disability, and promoting the active involvement of disabled talent both on-screen and behind the camera. Events such as Oska Bright Film Festival (UK), Leuven Disability Filmfestival (Belgium), Reelabilities (North America), Superfest, (North America), and The Other Film Festival (Australia) and Breaking Down Barriers (Russia) continue to provide important platforms the work of disabled actors and filmmakers across the world. Others however, such as the London Disability Arts Forum’s (LDAF) annual Disability Film Festival (UK), have fallen victim to recent government cuts to the arts.
Progress is underway, but significant challenges remain. Building on the cross-cultural, interdisciplinary and inter-professional conversations begun at our inaugural symposium, the Disability on Screen Network fixes a critical eye upon developments in representational practice, media initiatives and government policy, and strategizes for positive change.