Blog Post by Beth Richards 

“I know what they were thinking, but why should it matter as long as I can sing? It’s not a beauty contest.” Susan Boyle talking about Britain’s Got Talent      

More people with learning disabilities should be on TV.  I want to educate the world so that they won’t discriminate against people with learning disabilities. The problem is that I do not see people with learning disabilities on TV as much as people with physical disabilities. It is hard, because a learning disability is often invisible and it’s hard to identify.

My name’s Beth Richards, I have a learning disability. I work for University of Bristol on a project called ‘Learning disability on TV’ as part of a wider project called ‘Getting Things Changed.’  I’m trying to find out why it seems that people with learning disabilities are under represented on TV and why it seems that people without learning disabilities are playing the roles of people with learning disabilities?

According to an article in The Guardian on July 6, in the UK, disabled actors account for just 1.2% of those appearing on television, while research by the Ruderman Family Foundation last year found that, in the US, 95% of TV characters with disabilities were played by able-bodied actors. So, as you can tell, this is a small amount of disabled people on TV and I want to see more!  Mik Scarlet talked about his experience as an actor with a mental health issue in the June/July 2017 issue of PosAbility Magazine. If it was hard for him, it’s likely that that actors with learning disabilities have even greater problems making it on TV.

I know people with learning disabilities can be actors and have lots of talents. We are role models for others, because we know what it’s like to grow up with a learning disability. Non-disabled actors playing a disabled role can’t really understand, they don’t have the experience to know what a learning disability feels like. So, when there is a role for someone with a learning disability, it should be played by someone with that experience.

There are theatre companies for actors/actresses with learning disabilities. I am in one of these groups. Called ‘The Misfits,’ it’s a great stepping stone. There are lots of actors doing excellent work, like ‘Mind the Gap’ who performed at the Edinburgh Festival this year.

Hopefully, my research can help change the media for the better!

If you want to be involved or could help me with my research, please contact me at beth.richards@bristol.ac.uk  or on Twitter @GTC_SPS