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Are we doing enough for disabled creatives?


I would like to invite you to grab a cup of tea (or coffee) and watch our statement film, made by a truly brilliant team. Hopefully it will make more like-minded people give disabled creatives more opportunity.

Now where was I? Ah yes, the question in the heading.

That question is one that I have thought about a lot recently.

Not just because of the recognition that society is finally changing to be more inclusive. But, for a very personal reason.

I am a twin, whose brother died at a very young age.

Like many twins, I like to think we would have shared many similarities.

A boy whose passion for drawing, would grow into a career in the creative industry.

A boy whose only limitations were made in his own mind.

The truth is we have made great progress in representation of disability in on-screen and in-advertising. For me, this started with the 4Creative Superhumans campaign and most recently Adam and Eve DDBs #Wethe15.

Positive steps have been made in soaps, talk shows and consumer programmes, for all to see. I am confident that this representation will continue to grow and rightly so.

But what about behind the lens?

What about the creatives who are involved in making the work?

I don’t just mean the writers, art directors and designers, but the photographers, musicians, stylists, producers, editors, camera operators, electrical and sound specialists – all of whom go into making a creative campaign.

Over my nearly 30 years in the industry, I don’t think we have done enough towards being a diverse and inclusive community and culture.

We are an industry determined to create difference in our work.

Work that is created and made by the people we surround ourselves with.

Surely diversity and inclusion can only add richness to our working lives, making it more educational and intriguing along the way. Ultimately helping us to make difference in our work together.

This got me thinking that rather than just observing the issue, what actions could I take, as they always speak louder than words.

So, whilst creating our latest campaign for Irwin Mitchell, we challenged ourselves to make the most inclusive production possible.

The core concept of the new campaign is about connecting with clients on a human level and understanding their situation. It brings to life the very personal emotions that individuals go through in moments that matter to them, and how Irwin Mitchell have the empathy to understand and deal with. Whether clients are experiencing heightened emotions like anger and vulnerability, or more subtle emotions like doubt and insecurity, Irwin Mitchell helps them to transition to more positive state.

The parallels between Irwin Mitchell’s responsible business strategy and our own ambition became an aligning of the stars. Together, we agreed to give the opportunity to those who are often overlooked within our industry.

Firstly, we had to identify our ‘expert hands’. We needed some partners with the same ambition, who would help us to mentor our team of disabled creatives.

Having worked before with Annex films and their director, Oscar Cariss, I considered them to be the perfect fit and opened the conversation. The first meeting couldn’t have been quicker. I think it was a eureka moment for us all. It was a personal relief to know that others within the industry had the same aspirations.

We also needed to find a mentor for our photographer. Who better than somebody I’ve admired my whole career, a photographer who has constantly created ground-breaking work which evokes human emotion? We decided to approach Rankin.

In our first conversation with Rankin, the idea became bolder. We agreed that we needed to maximise the amount of disabled creatives we could work with. We were determined to create the opportunity for as many as possible.

With Annex and Rankin onboard, we reached out to find the talent to work with, using researchers, we contacted organisations like BAFTA, the BFI and channel 4 and reached out to Facebook groups to see who we could engage with.

Quite frankly, we were blown away by the response we received, talented people from across the production spectrum responded and wanted to join us.

It’s worth saying that whilst COVID-19 has obviously impacted creative production, through conversation with prospects, it felt like disabled people had been impacted even more.

We agreed that the process of production should be the same as usual.

This meant our prospect photographers were invited to ‘pitch’ for the job. Rankin looked through their treatments and finally, Ian Treherne was selected. Ian is a blind photographer whose work captivated us. We then had various zoom meetings to start the conversations and mentoring before the shoot days.

For the film work, we agreed that we would like to find disabled talent to fulfil the key creative tasks within the production. They would be mentored by various members of the team at Annex.

Our final list was:

Owen Tooth, Director
Dan Blaker, Sound recordist
Derek Paravicin, Musician
Bryanna Angel Ryder, Make-up artist
Raj Chohan, Art Director
Amy Daneel, Editor
Nicki Cornish, Photographer’s assistant
Nadia Albina, VO Artist

This full production team was made up of 30% disabled people, with a much larger percentage (60%) taking up pivotal roles, a stark contrast to the 9% that make up the creative industry.

We wanted everyone to be comfortable to allow their talents to shine.

We filmed over two long days and the end result really does demonstrate that disabled creative people are more than capable within our industry.

To be honest, they blew me away with their attitude and aptitude.

The shoot itself was undoubtably one of the best experiences of my career. Meeting some of Irwin Mitchell’s clients and sharing some of the personal stories was so inspirational. Then, to have discovered such brilliant people to work within our truly diverse team really makes the campaign a success before it even airs. Seeing Ian at work with Rankin was truly incredible.

Hopefully our project can drive change and open more opportunities for a community that is often discriminated against. Our aim is to inspire other creative agencies and production companies to use more disabled talent, an area that the industry has been lagging behind on for many years.

I have made a commitment that we will always look to be more inclusive within our productions. Having worked with this team on this campaign, why would I want to do it any other way? I know that the work will only be made better for it.

Since our project, I have heard that our individuals have not just been put forward for other jobs but are actively working. This is not because of what we did, but because of what they can do.

If you have made it this far, thank you for reading about the start of our journey.

Please watch our statement film. Hopefully it will make more like-minded people give disabled creatives more opportunity.

Watch here