A study issued by government agency, Screen Australia, found that the rate of disability representation among main characters had improved, but this was from a low base.

The study, Seeing Ourselves 2 - Diversity, equity and inclusion in Australian TV drama, is the second report in Screen Australia’s landmark research series about diversity in Australia and builds on part one which was published in 2016.

The purpose of both reports was to look at the diversity of main characters in 361 scripted TV and online dramas broadcast between 2016 and 2021, and how this compares to the Australian population.

The findings revealed that disability remains “very much under-represented” in TV drama at 6.6 percent. Despite this being a three percent improvement from previous studies. It remains a fair way below the Australian population benchmark of 18 percent.

What are the findings?

The report also found that nearly three-quarters of programs did not feature any main characters with disability, however, this too was an improvement from the 90 percent reported in 2016.  

Other core findings included that seven in ten programs do not feature any main characters who are disabled and that the most common types of disability portrayed in TV drama are psychosocial (for example memory conditions or mental illness) which affected 59 percent of disabled main characters.

One in six titles featured one main character with disability (17 percent) and 12 percent featured more than one, including The End and Legend of Burnout Barry from the DisRupted initiative.

The report noted there was a significant opportunity to broaden the breadth of disability portrayal to open audience perspectives to the diverse range of experiences of people living with disability.

Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason said there is a strong desire in the industry to craft increasingly nuanced and sophisticated Australian stories dealing with the diversity of our communities and the sometimes-challenging conversations that arise from genuine introspection.

 Mason said screen stories that authentically reflect us and our place in the world are important for helping to grow our cultural identity, and because all Australians have the right to be included in the stories we tell about ourselves.


While it was pleasing to see substantial improvements in many areas since the organisation’s 2016 study, the overall results indicate that the pace of change remains slow.

“There is still a long way to go to reach full representation of Australia’s diverse communities. In particular, disability representation remains critically low. This highlights the need for targeted, focused effort in this area from industry, as we have seen successfully employed for First Nations screen representation over the past three decades.”

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