Disability, london, social media

Disproportionate Representation Discrimination on TV.

“You’ve highlighted that the show is not set up for people with disabilities…”. (says The Apprentice).

By Simon Sansome

I know that this article title is a mouthful but hear me out. The Apprentice, The Masked Singer and I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, are some of the UK’s most loved TV shows. Millions of people tune in every week to guess who is going to be fired, who is going to be unmasked and which Z lister is going to be evicted from camp.

As a nation we love watching celebrities eating sheep’s testicles, watching the judges on the Masked Singer make ridiculous guesses that someone like Cher or Robbie Williams is going to be on the show when we all know it is going to be the mediocre actor from Hollyoaks, or we find out which idiot on The Apprentice is going to get fired for not selling enough hotdogs at London’s Borough Market.

We discussed this issues on the Grumpy Gits Podcast, which is the largest disability podcast in the world and is very inclusive. Unlike the TV shows above. One of The Grumpy Gits viewers contacted us as she also applied for The Apprentice, Fiona Stevenson said: “The BBC didn’t offer me Access to Work, or anyone to assist me at the interview in Birmingham”. This highlights it is not an isolated incident. Fiona added: “At the end of the interview, the guy interviewing me said ‘You’ve highlighted that the show is not set up for people with disabilities. We will look at this in the future…’. This is a shocking comment from the production company behind the show, they are actually admitting that they cannot accept people with disabilities on the show as it is not set up that way.

“This represents less than 0.5% of contestants with disabilities taking part in the U.K.’s biggest TV shows..”

This brings me back round to the title of this article which is ‘Disproportionate Representation Discrimination. The BBC and ITV and other channels have committed themselves to making sure that people with disabilities are represented fairly on television. They have set up whole departments and employed hundreds of people to make sure that this happens to try create a fair, open and equal society. According to Scope a charity organisation, there are 14.1 million people with disabilities in the UK, effectively 1 in 5. When you count up the contestants from The Apprentice it says that they have been 229 contestants and yet from the Google research I have done, I can only find two people who have had disabilities. The same is said for ‘I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here’, they have had 254 contestants and again I can only find three people with disabilities have taken part of the show, we are yet to see a person with a disability on The Masked Singer, there have been 48 contestants so far. This represents less than 0.5% of contestants with disabilities taking part in the U.K.’s biggest TV shows meaning that these production companies, the BBC and ITV or effectively discrimination against the disabled community for not supporting them enough in the application process or not having taken part for whatever reason they want to come up with.

Back in 2018. I actually applied for the apprentice for my sins, and it was one of the most insulting processes that I have ever been through. I was just finishing my degree in journalism at De Montfort University and I was desperately trying to launch an app which is the equivalent of TripAdvisor to the disabled community. That app is now called Snowball Community and it is available on Apple and Android, I launched it this year without the assistance of The Apprentice.

‘I was actually discriminated against, in my application for the Apprentice as they failed in offering reasonable adjustments, but at the time I did not recognise’.

During the process, I was actually discriminated against, in my application for the Apprentice as they failed in offering reasonable adjustments, but at the time I did not recognise this. I was new to the disabled community following an injury that paralysed me from the waist down. I completed the application online and then following that successful application, I was invited to Birmingham to an art gallery where I would have meetings with the production company.

However even before I rolled in the door I was turned away and the reason for this is I did not have a passport photo. I had the application, I had a passport photo on my phone and I had all the paperwork they required, but security said I was not allowed in the building unless I had a physical passport photo. I explained to the production manager and security that I couldn’transfer into a photo booth as my wheelchair can’t get in and I explained that I had difficulty getting a passport photo. Either way they were having none and now I was a problem as I was holding up what was a very large queue behind me. I was asked to leave, my wife Kate who was with me to assist me and is also my main carer walked around Birmingham for an hour and a half trying to find a place that did a passport photo without a photo booth.

Eventually, we did find one and returned to the art gallery to go through to the next process. This process is sitting in a waiting room of about 50 chairs surrounded by potentially the next contestant, some who are there legitimately like myself, and some who are there, clearly for the publicity and attention they crave from TV and social media.

As you can imagine, the turnover of people coming through the doors is exceptionally high and so we were taken into a room 15 to 20 people at a time we got told to stand in a semicircle and we had 30 seconds to pitch our idea. Then it was up to producers who had no real-life experience in choosing what affectively would be caricatures from the room to go through to the next round. Me, being sensible having a good idea was turned down immediately, as well as many other people in the room with excellent business ideas, it was clear from the people they were choosing to appear on the show they were not interested in having and helping people have a successful business. It was more about the entertainment value, even after the semicircle ended and leaving the room one of the producers, came up to me, and said ‘That was the best idea in the room’, but I didn’t get through.

Looking back on this experience, and what I know now for me the application process of The Apprentice could actually be discriminatory because at no point was I offered assistance with the application through Access to Work, I was not offered any assistance to have support in the room when doing a pitch, the production company who runs The Apprentice did not talk to me about Access to Work and yet Access to Work as a vital tool for any potential employer or contestant applying for any show or job application and this is effectively an apprenticeship.

For those not in the know, Access to Work is a government scheme that supports people with mental health issues, learning disabilities and physical disabilities access the work place, on an equal level to everyone else, taking away any barriers for the potential employee making sure they are supported through an application process and beyond and identifying reasonable adjustments.

Having a picture on your phone, a passport photo for example, because you cannot access a photo booth would normally be classed as a reasonable adjustment. So even before I was put in the semicircle with the other applicants, I had already had a run-in with a production manager of from the production company and security on the front door as they will not accept my paperwork which then put me on the back foot of anyone else, applying for the show.

From what I can see no changes have been made to the application process for The Apprentice and very little is being done to address the blatant disregard for people with disabilities. The most popular shows on TV are undermining and under representing the people of the UK and the millions of people tuning in.

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