A government minister is calling on industries, including gaming, fashion and television, to urgently increase their representation of people with disabilities.
Penny Mordaunt said she had been surprised to hear young people raise the lack of disabled characters in computer games as their top concern during research by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
She called on game developers to take steps to address the issue and said she also wanted to see more people with disabilities on the catwalk and on high profile television programmes.
Mordaunt, the minister for disabled people, also called for reforms in other sectors including retail, music, tourism and advertising. She said there were too many stories about disabled people being unable to access toilets or being “segregated” from friends in music or sports stadiums.
Announcing a series of “sector champions” to help improve the situation in a range of industries, she said: “Enormous numbers of people are being short-changed on their experiences and their quality of life.”
She said that she often heard of people being “unable to have equality of experience at live music events or at a football match” or facing “the physical obstacles of going shopping in the high street”.
Mordaunt said it was important that disabled people were catered for as consumers but a lack of representation was also a big problem.
“Prior to taking this job I didn’t realise how much a priority this is for disabled people. At our new children and young persons panel one of the top issues fed into us was the representation of disabled people in gaming. It is something hugely important to them and it is evidence that the sector is not responding to their needs,” she said.
Mordaunt has chosen Jo Twist, CEO of UKIE – the trade body for the UK’s games and interactive entertainment industry – as sector champion for the industry. Twist’s work on innovation and inclusion has involved helping people with disabilities to be able to play games.
The fashion industry will be named in a second wave of the project announced by Mordaunt, who said there was a lot of good work going on.
“There was a show at London fashion week on Friday that had disabled models,” she said, highlighting work by design duo Teatum Jones, which included two disabled models – Jack Eyers and Kelly Knox.
“New York fashion week is the leader on this,” added Mordaunt. “It is about representation of models on the catwalk but also about products such as [appropriate] footwear and clothing for wheelchair.”
The DWP has also appointed sector champions for airports, the bus industry, banking and media, where Mordaunt highlighted the work of Channel 4.
“Channel 4 has done so much to make sure that [disabled people are well represented] – and not just in the Paralympic coverage but in every part of what they do,” she said. “It is completely mainstream.”
Channel 4’s head of marketing, press and publicity, Dan Brooke, was named as the media sector champion. He said Channel 4 had tried to hugely boost the number of disabled people in its coverage through the Paralympics and programmes such as the Undateables, Gogglebox, the Island, First Dates and Hollyoaks.
He said the aim was to normalise the presence of people with disabilities, citing research by the charity Scope that said half the population doesn’t know a disabled person. Brooke argued that probably wasn’t quite true given the rate of disability but added: “There is a social awkwardness and fear of saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing – and television breaks down barriers and makes people realise that disabled people are like everyone else.”
He said that Britain was progressive, with a much bigger appetite from viewers for a competition like the Paralympic games than in other countries. The key was for companies to understand the commercial possibilities, said Brooke, citing a Channel 4 competition for the best ad campaign involving disabled people, which Maltesers won.
He said the company found that the adverts tested better than any they had run for three years. “They’ve realised they can sell more chocolate by putting disabled people in ads – that blew their mind,” he said. He also said that 11% of the workforce at Channel 4 were disabled, compared with 2-3% in some other media companies. He said it was important for people to not see employing people with disabilities as a cost, but to recognise the opportunities.