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People with disabilities should be part of filmmaking, London panel says

A panel discusses inclusion and disability access at the London Independent Film Festival. (Anjola Fashawe/YJI)

LONDON – Accessibility in film productions starts with effective networking, according to a panel of speakers at the London Independent Film Festival. 

‘’Access is an afterthought,’’ said writer and director Sarah Leigh, who moderated the panel, which was part of the annual London Independent Film Festival. Held each spring, the festival is part of the organization’s efforts to support emerging filmmakers.

The panelists discussed the issue of inaccessible production trucks as an example.  

Leigh compared the hypocrisy of production being unwilling to adapt to the ease with which it was done during the pandemic with covid coordinators. 

“Reasonable adjustments are not only for the disabled,” said Sam Oldknow, a disability consultant.  

Adding extra time in shoot schedules is a solution the panel mentioned with reference to the accessibility needs of pregnant women.  

In the casting process, production should be “open to interpretation,” said Diane Janssen, a producer, agent and actor. 

The panelists discussed the importance of access being embedded into production budgets.  

“Accessibility doesn’t have to cost,” said Oldknow.  

Image from the London Independent Film Festival’s official Facebook Page.

The panel criticized the excuse of lack of funds in the production industry, highlighting all the money spent on post-production gifts, inaccessible wrap-up parties and location changes.  

Tom Watts, a director of photography, said writers should consider shots with accessibility in mind to address the problem of inaccessibility at its root.  

“Value disabled people for their artistic excellence,” said Oldknow, “not as tick boxes.” 

Abbie Hills, an access coordinator with cerebral palsy, said she felt like the “poster girl of disability.”  

Leigh mentioned the tendency of productions to expect individuals to ‘ramp up’ their disabilities instead of focusing on authentic casting. 

The panelists shared their experiences of feeling that they had to hide aspects of their identity to avoid making difficulties in production.  

Productions tend to make on-screen disabilities the “focal point of the entire character arc,” in films, said Oldknow.  

“The focus on disability is completely missing the human,” said Watts.  

Leigh said it’s “more palatable” for production companies to hire autistic individuals who may conceal their disability, a term Watts called “high-masking.” 

The route to accessible productions starts with ‘inclusive networking’ said Janssen.  

Oldknow agreed, adding that it’s vital to build relationships with adjustment supplies for reasonable accommodations to be made.  

“Openness is key,” said Oldknow.

An “access first mindset” is crucial, said Hills, adding, “Film-makers are problem solvers” and need to start noting barriers they see in productions. 

Oldknow suggested the industry factor in accessibility assessments and not just risk assessments to address inaccessible sets. 

The panelists agreed on the need for integration rather than segregation in production. It all starts with networking, they said. 

“Integration,” said Hills, “will get rid of tokenism.”  

Anjola Fashawe is a Senior Reporter with Youth Journalism International. 

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