21 January 2015

Disability media and Attitude TV - "Changing attitudes will change lives".

AttitudeTV has recently come across the ditch, and has been airing on ABC TV in Australia each Saturday at 6.30 and on iView. It is a New Zealand made show focused on people with disabilities. It also holds the Attitude Awards - each International Day of People with a Disability.

In Australia, The Attitude Foundation - chaired by former Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes - wants to create an Australian equivalent of the show - my thoughts on that later. 

I have watched episode one and three of Attitude, and will catch up on the others on iView soon. Graeme Innes wrote about episode one on his blog.

Episode three of Attitude featured a story about Amanda Lowry, who fell off her surfboard in an accident, and was paralysed from the neck down. The program began with Amanda talking about how active she is, and then showing her in the Auckland spinal unit - a week after her accident. Her whole life has changed. She said “everything has been re-written” - explaining how her arms and legs don’t work and she needs help going to the toilet. She was on her way to doing her PhD - and her partner was going to be the primary carer of their children while Amanda went to work. But life changed suddenly - for the whole family. 

The program showed Amanda in rehabilitation, and the way her partner had to make adjustments to their living arrangements to support Amanda’s acquired disability. They were going to live in temporary accommodation after the rehabilitation unit - to allow for the physical support Amanda needs for her disability. Amanda was also very apprehensive about seeing her children after leaving rehab, because they had not seen her since before the accident, when she had full body movement. She spoke of her three year old daughter Lola being upset about her newly acquired disability, describing her mum as “broken” - hoping that if she takes care of her Mum, Amanda will be fixed. 

In the hospital, Amanda said she will do everything she can to return to the life she had before the accident. 

At the end of the program Amanda said she will never accept her disability. I hope that one day she does accept it, that she finds connection in community and is proud of her identity - disability and all.  

I watched the follow up story which showed Amanda's grief - she misses her 'old' life so much.

One very positive point was that the program acknowledged Amanda is in a same-sex relationship - which shows broad diversity. 

Watch Amanda’s recovery story here , and her new life story hereand follow her on Facebook.

I am committed to increasing and celebrating disability led and featured media in Australia. I believe in Attitude Australia's mantra that "changing attitudes will change lives".

We need an Australian series of Attitude. We need to see how disability can happen to us at any time. Viewers must be able to get a true perspective of how people with disabilities live - and see the hard times and the good times. 

I believe the Australian series must be disability-led, and must show the diversity of disabilities - acquired and congenital - and the reasons for this are twofold. 

I think a lack of disability diversity portrayal:  
1) doesn't give people permission to identify as having a disability if they don't fit in the stereotypes of disability, 


2) doesn't educate the wider public about disability, so they might not see their discriminatory behaviour (as was the case with the taxi driver incident I endured). A friend of mine recently spoke about how once she was given permission from Stella Young to identify with having a disability, she sought the help she needed to get through her studies. 

While we've only seen a few episodes of New Zealand's Attitude, I hope that an Australian version will feature more stories of people feeling empowered and proud and accepting of their disabilities - showing what life is like out of rehabilitation and what success looks like. The Australian disability community has been critical of the limiting ways the show has portrayed disabilities over these few episodes. 

And an Australian Attitude must reach more than just an audience made up of the disability community. It needs a prime-time spot. Without going mainstream, it’s merely preaching to the converted.

Attitude is now in its 10th season in New Zealand - it first aired in 2005. According to the NZ government broadcast funding agency's website, Attitude TV receives over one million $NZ of funding. I implore Australian television networks and government to have the same commitment to finance and longevity that Attitude New Zealand has received. 

We need disability media now more than ever. 

You can help Change Attitudes by supporting the Start Some Good campaign. We are crowd-funding our first Australian programme, and we’ll build to an Australian series. Join us today to help change attitudes towards people with disabilities.

Follow the Attitude Foundation on Facebook and Twitter

This post was written for the Attitude Foundation - no payment was received. Opinions are my own. 


  1. Great post Carly. I hope we can soon see and Australian version of Attitude. Your point "1) doesn't give people permission to identify as having a disability if they don't fit in the stereotypes of disability," really hits home and is one I have struggled with on and off and I know I'm not alone. After years of deteriorating health, functioning and mobility it was only when my OT pointed out to me that I was indeed disabled in 2013 and was hurting myself by refusing things like a parking permit, (mind you I could only walk about 5m before falling over or passing out at that point) that I finally began to think of myself as disabled. Having something mostly invisible made it hard to believe, having worked in rehab and always seeing the extreme end of disability skewed my beliefs without me even realising, so my complaints seemed petty. Yet I could no longer work, drive, leave the house by myself, etc. I would love to see local stories about those kind of issues. The idea of 'real' disability that is held in the community makes life so hard for so many.

  2. Thanks for your comments about the Attitude series so far. As associate producer hopefully I can respond to your comments and reassure you that a full Australian series of Attitude will look quite different to this. You’re right this mini series is not a broad representation of disability or the diverse experiences those of who happen to have a disability would recognise.
    Most of the stories are about people with and acquired disability (and the story of how they acquired their disability, if you get my drift) There are no stories of people with sensory (intellectual and psycho-social to follow)
    To an extent we’re beholden to the broadcaster’s selection and I suspect stories of rehabilitation (and love stories!) are chosen for their natural narrative arc. In the instance of Cody and Amanda we stretched that narrative arc into follow up episodes where to an extent they’ve accepted their disability (not always and not fully) but they’ve discovered a sense of self worth and found activities that put fire in their belly, Cody with sport and Amanda teaching.
    Most importantly for us is that the narrative voice stays with the person we are profiling, the person with the disability is telling their own story. (Although there are some exceptions to this.) Our main motivation is to get the viewer to take a walk in someone else’s shoes. It is then when we realise we have more in common than we have different, and for the tuff stuff, an empathy as opposed to sympathy
    You’re right, we need the broadest possible audience and when you see what we’re competing with for the prime time slot it becomes a delicate balance.
    The NZ series comprises of 35-40 episodes and the whole gamut is represented
    People who work on the series are qualified in their field and have a disability from the office assistant, transcribe, researcher, editor and producers and in terms of diversity we tick all of the above boxes
    I hope that a full Australian series of Attitude gets funded. That the employment and development policies are replicated so that Australians with disabilities can help tell the stories of Australians with disabilities from all walks of life and that viewers with and without disabilities will see authentic experiences represented and that in turn will changes attitudes and raises expectations for disabled people as I believe it has here.

    We really appreciate the feedback and I know you and I will talk more. And Everyone, please keep the reviews, comments and suggestions coming!

    I’ll leave you with a link to this story about Andrea – with the caveat that this is what she wanted people to know and the voice she wanted to use and she was thrilled with the result :)


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