Breaking Bad actor and co-host of Channel 4′s Paralympic Games coverage RJ Mitte is calling on broadcasters to boost the number of disabled people on our screens.
Mitte has cerebral palsy and his character in the cult series, Walter White Jr, also had the condition, but a 2014 study of more than 250 of the most popular programmes found only 2.5% of people on screen were disabled.
The disability campaigner was appearing at the Edinburgh TV Festival to debate the issue and hopes the Paralympics coverage, using a majority (75%) disabled presenting team, can help change global attitudes to disability.
He said: “I wouldn’t be in the position I am in today without my disability. I utilised everything I know about living with cerebral palsy for my role in Breaking Bad.
“It was my acting ability that landed me the role, although my disability helped get me the part of Walt Junior – like everyone else I went through a gruelling audition process.
“I’m really looking forward to co presenting the Paralympics and I truly hope Rio 2016 will open up further opportunities for other disabled actors in TV. If we can make this happen, we will in turn help change attitudes towards disability across the world.”
New research by disability charity Scope found eight in 10 (81%) disabled people did not feel they were well-represented on TV and in the media.
The study of more than 1,000 disabled adults in the UK earlier this month found three in five (61%) believed seeing more disabled people on TV increased awareness of disability among the public.
Most respondents (77%) said the coverage of the Paralympics had a positive impact on attitudes to disability over the past four years.
An earlier Scope study of more than 2,000 UK adults in 2014 found half did not personally know anyone disabled while two-thirds admitted feeling awkward about disability.
The charity believes seeing disabled characters and presenters on their favourite shows could improve this.
Scope patron and co-host Sophie Morgan said: “The representation of disability on TV is hugely important and the effect this has on improving attitudes towards disability should not be under-estimated.
“We know lots of progress is being made but the industry must do more to help disabled people work both in front of and behind the camera.
“During the Paralympics there will be more disabled people than ever before on TV but this shouldn’t be something that just happens every four years.
“I would love to switch on my TV and see a disabled person talking about something they are genuinely interested in or acting out a part that doesn’t just focus on their impairment.”
Channel 4′s presenting team for the Paralympics has the the largest number of disabled presenters ever seen on UK TV.
The Last Leg’s Adam Hills, who has a prosthetic foot, will lead the coverage along with Clare Balding.