The BBC is to quadruple the number of disabled people on screen, it has announced, weeks after unveiling a similar quota system for black and ethnic minority representation.
Lord Hall, the director-general, said it was “vital” that the corporation reflects the make-up of the nation.
Disabled actors, presenters and on-air contributors currently make up 1.2 per cent of those who appear on screen. The target is 5 per cent by 2017. There are also targets of 5.3 per cent for behind-the-scenes staff (currently 3.7 per cent) and 5 per cent for management positions (3.1 per cent).
A new ‘pan-BBC Disability Executive” will be appointed to improve the portrayal of disabled people and to champion disabled talent throughout the corporation. The BBC will open up 150 business support roles to disabled candidates, with disability charities including the Shaw Trust and the Royal National Institute for the Blind “pre-sifting” candidates for interview.
Those roles will “influence cultural change at the BBC by having more people with disabilities working visibly in our buildings and teams across the UK”, a spokesman said.
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, the Paralympian, will assess the process as a member of the Independent Diversity Advisory Group. The BBC said she would “judge on results, not just efforts”.
Disabled performers and presenters on the BBC include Cerrie Burnell, the CBeebies presenter who was born with part of her right arm missing, and Gary O’Donohue, the political correspondent who is blind.
Lord Hall said: “It is vital we reflect the public we serve – both on and off air. While the BBC has some good schemes in place, we must and can do significantly more.
“We will now work tirelessly to achieve our new ambitions, and reserve the option of going even further in the future.”
The announcement received a cautious welcome from Julie Fernandez (pictured), the actress, presenter and campaigner best known for her role in The Office.
“I think it’s about bloody time,” she said. “But I hope things do change, because I feel like I’ve heard this for the past 20 years.
“Disabled people make up a mass of the population but we’re always portrayed in the same way: as the brave, wonderful heroic person who climbs a mountain or does a sport; as the megalomaniac villain with the eye patch or the mental health problems; or as a medical case."
The disabled should be given roles on television in which their disability is incidental, Fernandez said.
She recalled; "I went for one audition where the character was a secretary who sat behind a desk the whole time. Every scene. But they said I couldn't do it because they hadn't written it as a part for a wheelchair-bound secretary.
“It will only change when disabled people become the writers and casting directors, because at the moment we have got mostly white, middle class, able-bodied men telling us that being disabled must be terribly hard and tragic.”