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A mere 4% of UK TV ads featured disabled characters in 2021

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By Hannah Bowler | Journalist

June 29, 2022 | 3 min read

Disabled people only featured in 4% of UK TV ads in 2021, leading a measly 1% of observed spots despite around 22% of the UK population having some form of disability, according to a damning report from Channel 4.

Channel 4’s audit of disabled representation in TV ads found that the cast was often older. Furthermore, ads were five times more likely to be fronted by a high-profile disabled sportsman. While there had been a 1% improvement in disabled representation from 2020, Channel 4 added a disclaimer that 2021 was a Paralympics year where such a fluctuation could be anticipated.

The research was commissioned by Channel 4’s Mirror On The Industry Insights project, which reviews representation in TV ads.

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Channel 4 audits disability in TV ads

Digging deeper into the research, mobility impairments were the most commonly shown disabilities, shown in 19% of ads, followed by limb differences at 8% and hearing loss at 5%. Neurodiversity and mental health were the least represented on-screen, which Channel 4 attributed to those disabilities being harder to visually communicate.

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“Actual progress on improving disabled representation has been too slow, and it’s time to supercharge our efforts, embrace the challenge and put disabled people at the heart of our campaigns,” said Verica Djurdjevic, chief revenue officer at Channel 4.

The slow improvement around disabled diversity has led the broadcaster to select the characteristic as the focus of its annual Diversity in Advertising Award. The awards return for a second year with another £1m TV and social media advertising spot up for grabs.

The brief for 2022 is for a brand campaign that puts an accurate portrayal of disabled people with any kind of condition at the heart of its campaign.

James Taylor, director of strategy at disability equality charity Scope, and broadcaster Ade Adepitan are among the judging panel for the awards. Taylor added: “There are over 14 million disabled people in this country, yet disability still remains hugely underrepresented on our screens and throughout the advertising industry. By consistently overlooking a fifth of the population, the UK advertising industry is missing out on both creative and business opportunities.”

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