New guidance for filmmakers on how to represent people with disabilities 

A recent PhD from the University of Leicester has called on the film industry to better represent people with disabilities on the big screen.

Dr Ngozi Emmanuel, who has recently completed an ESRC/IAA funded postdoctorate with the University of Leicester’s School of Media, Communication and Sociology, has developed a toolkit with guidance on representing disabilities and people with disabilities for filmmakers and industry stakeholders.

An expert in the representation of disability in cinema especially within cinemas of the global south such as Nollywood, Dr Emmanuel has worked with a range of people with disabilities, filmmakers, and disability scholars to produce the guidance.

Dr Emmanuel’s research argues that media representation of disability considerably impacts “disability shame” or “disability pride”.

Despite some progress in the recent representation of disabilities and people with disabilities, cinema has historically patronised, pitied or shamed disabled people.

The toolkit states that people with disabilities and actors with disabilities should be at the forefront of filmmaking that covers themes of disability.

Disabled actors should be used to play disabled characters and people with disabilities should be involved with scriptwriting and directing of films.

The guidance also says that more needs to be done to ensure that nondisabled filmmakers are educated in the right way to portray disability in films.

Dr Emmanuel said: “No doubt, the media are very influential. Film, especially with its audio-visual quality and power of storytelling could impact on public perception of minority groups such as people with disabilities and their identity. As such, how people with disabilities are represented on screen potentially contributes to disability shame, which is a feeling of loss of self-worth for people with disabilities or disability pride, which is a feeling of positive disability identity where people with disabilities do not feel a need to hide or play small because of their disabilities. This means that filmmakers and relevant stakeholders need to do more in terms of telling disability stories in a way that supports anti-ableism.”

Representing Disabilities and People with Disabilities in Films has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council Impact Acceleration Account.

The full list of recommendations can be found at