“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no-one thinks of changing himself.”
’Unique Extras’ is a project that aims to use popular culture through the media to make disabled people visible in everyday life. TV drama, film and advertising reaches audiences across New Zealand. It is funded by the NZ Government's "Making a Difference" fund which supports the disability social change campaign, Think Differently.
We wish to increase knowledge and understanding of disability by bringing images of disabled people engaging in “regular” activities into the lounges of New Zealanders. It will increase the personal relevance of disability for all New Zealanders by reminding them that disabled people are part of their daily lives. It will mobilise personal and community action for positive change by requiring actors and crew to engage equally with disabled people and discuss this with family and friends. It will address the social environment that tolerates or accepts exclusion of disabled people by modelling natural inclusion.
The first phase of the project, running May-October 2012, used the popularity of these media genres to influence public attitudes toward disabled people by:
Media has a high conscious and sub-conscious impact on society. The ’Unique Extras’ project worked with media/production companies to encourage them to use disabled or Deaf people in non-featured roles in popular media including advertisements, tv dramas and films. This provided employment opportunities for disabled people and allowed a space for other actors and crew to interact with disabled people professionally.
The ’Unique Extras’ project worked to increase the appreciation of disabled and Deaf people's talents among media/production and the frequency and breadth of diversity portrayed in screen media in a low-key, regular manner.
We believe this is a more effective way to promote awareness than having disabled featured characters as it allows a diversity of people to be visible without over-emphasising the issue of disability — people just happen to be in scenes interacting in everyday settings.
In December 2012 the Ministry of Social Development’s Think Differently project again funded Diversityworks Trust to support increasing diversity on screen and influencing the way that disabled people are portrayed in the New Zealand media.
Disabled people represent almost 20% of the population and yet they are not fairly represented on television screens. The infrequent appearance of disabled people on television screens results in audiences being overly-fascinated by the novelty of disability when it does appear. Diversityworks Trust saw the need to saturate the media landscape with ‘everyday’ portrayal of disability in order to make disability more usual to audiences. In order for this to happen the television industry requires a major shift in attitude to accept diversity on screen.
Diversityworks Trust took an action based research approach to addressing this imbalance, working closely with BORDERLESS, the Social Change Company leading thinking and actions that deliver positive change results throughout the world.
Two media scans were carried out, before and after the proposed intervention, initially to determine the degree to which the intervention has had an influence on the television industry. Over the course of the research it became evident that a longer timeframe for change would be needed. The first scan looked at current portrayals of disability in NZ and the second focused on commentary about disability in the media, predominantly overseas.
A 30-second TV commercial was produced and broadcast on Maori TV, TV3 and FOUR, and online through a viral campaign promoting the idea of more diversity on screen and encouraging the audience to a call to action via the Diversityworks AND Unique Extras websites. This information was captured and used to promote the campaign, driving home to broadcasters, casting agencies and the general public the need for this change. The ad was broadcast free of charge by Maori TV and MediaWorks.
Diversityworks surveyed and met with agents, production houses, ad agencies, film makers, broadcasters and the public to advocate for more saturation of positive, everyday portrayals of disability in the media. Meetings were through face-to-face, telephone and email interviews, and an online survey to identify points of influence. Information from a media scan, previously recorded interviews with key industry personalities, and a talent brochure developed in phase one of this project, were used to influence the industry during the interviews.
As well as documenting the findings in writing, eight of the conversations were captured on film, to add to five previously filmed interviews. This would allow the opportunity, particularly if the project is successful, to retrospectively tell the story of how the change was created.