What TV genres are the most representative of disabled people?

Hira Shabbir
Hira Shabbir - Digital Marketing and Analytics Officer
Friday 26 August 2022
Father and children

Children's TV was the genre that was most representative of disabled people at 11.9% in 2020-21. But is this enough?

Recent statistics show an improvement in on-screen representation of disabled people. So, why are there still many stories in the news of an actor or producer apologising for getting it wrong?

Take Sia’s film Music as an example. It led to outrage online due to the casting of neurotypical actress and dancer Maddie Ziegler.

Is there still a clear lack of awareness of the different types of disability, and how they are portrayed on-screen? And what does this mean for children and young people?

Disabled children and young people in the UK

The UK Equality Act 2010 discusses the varying types of disability, and how disability can impact different people: “It is important to remember that not all impairments are readily identifiable.

While some impairments, particularly visible ones, are easy to identify, there are many which are not so immediately obvious, for example some mental health conditions and learning disabilities.”

For disabled children and young people, the importance of seeing themselves represented accurately in the media can shape the way they see themselves growing up, as well as how others see them.

How does UK TV rank for its representation of disabled people?

Overall, disabled people face severe inequality when being cast in TV roles. In 2021, on-screen contributions of disabled people only made up 8.3% of all contributions in the UK – a disappointing increase of only 1.1% over the past five years.

Of all genres, children’s TV ranks highest. This is important as it means that children are seeing a more accurate representation of society on TV.

This not only provides disabled children with a figure they relate to, but also informs and educates children without disabilities from a young age.

While we celebrate the improvement in representation, and the long-term value of children’s TV ranking highest, it's important to remember these figures are still too low. 18% of disabled people making up the national population; these figures are far from representative of our society.

Views on media representation of disabled people

Once we begin to understand the different types of disability and compare this against the representation of disability in the media, it becomes apparent that the majority of attempts to portray the community are repetitive in their storylines or inauthentic.

The BBC’s Ofcom report ‘Representation and portrayal on BBC television’ demonstrates this. It shares reviews from groups, who claim they’re aware of the ‘box-ticking’ and ‘tokenist attempts to make a programme appear more diverse and can find it patronising’.

Mother and disabled child

We know that this isn't something children are hidden from. Children and young people are spending more time than ever watching television or using some form of device – whether it’s for entertainment, education or escapism.

We previously wrote about the media's representation of LGBTQ+ people. In this we highlighted how: “In 2019, Ofcom found that total hours for children aged 3–17 [watching TV] ranged anywhere up to 46.1 hours a week.”

How Action for Children is supporting disabled children

Lewis with support worker

Lewis and his support worker

Action for Children has dedicated services which work closely with disabled children and their families, such as our short breaks services. Bonnie, one of our Family Breaks service carers shared how it's made a 'life-changing difference'.

Additionally, our activity services provide children with specially-adapted environments and tools to develop their life skills and create new friendships in a safe place. Lewis is a regular attendee at our Bury Cycle Racetrack. He loves to use his adapted bicycle and try his hand at baking, bowling, archery and arts and crafts.

Aside from the services and activities that we run, our Parent Talk service provides parents with free, confidential 1:1 advice on how to support their children. 

Why is it important to push for better representation?

We must ensure that all children grow up seeing themselves on TV and feel like they have equal opportunities to their peers in the future.

With the continuous advancement of technology and increasing screen-times, television has the potential to shape the way we think as a society. With more diversity on screen we can help to break the barriers disabled people face in their daily lives.

Disabilities aren't defining of a person. And it’s important to reinforce this to children and young people, especially when society and the media tend to marginalise them. As such, it’s vital to share different and varied narratives, rather than creating characters with storylines framed entirely around their disability.

The family drama and TV show Atypical (PG 11) is a great example of diversified storylines and casts. The show was praised for its portrayal of Autism, as well as the inclusion of characters on the spectrum that play both neurotypical and autistic characters.

TV shows/series:

  • Atypical (PG 11)
  • Goldie and Bear (4+)
  • Sesame street (2+)
  • Atypical (11+)
  • Pablo (5+)
  • She-Ra and the Princess of Power  (7+)
  • Raising Dion (12+)
  • The Healing Powers of Dude (7+)


  • The Silent Child (Rated R)
  • Hardball (13+)
  • Life, Animated (+12)
  • Loop (8+)
  • Wonder (10+)
  • How to train your dragon (10+)


  • We'll Paint the Octopus Red (any age)
  • The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time by Mark Haddon (12+)
  • El deafo (7+)
  • Meet Me in Outer Space (13+)

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