A seminar on neurodiversity and inclusion in the screen industries organised by Screen Skills Ireland
- The virtual event explored the different strategies and solutions to favour the inclusion of neurodiverse creative workers
On Wednesday 6 October, Screen Skills Ireland hosted a seminar titled “Neurodiversity and the Irish Screen Industries”, chaired by screenwriter and inclusivity advocate Lindsay Jane Sedgwick. The two-hour virtual event saw the participation of Eleanor McSherry, PhD candidate and programme co-ordinator of Autism Studies at University College Cork, and Anna Czarska, filmmaker and managing director of Sticky Tape Productions.
In her contribution, McSherry provided an overview about what neurodiversity is, “a very broad umbrella concept” defined as “an approach to learning and disability where diverse neurological conditions are a result of normal or slight variations in the human genome.” In general terms, people can either be “neurodivergent” subjects experiencing less typical cognitive variation (such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, etc.) or, more commonly, “neurotypical” ones. Neurodivergent subjects are estimated to make up 10% of the population, but the actual number may be significantly higher, since many find out about their neurodiversity later in life or, in some cases, never. Speaking about the impact of neurodiversity in the screen industries, McSherry invited us to stop thinking about the negative aspects and focus on what added value these individuals can bring. A person affected by dyslexia, for example, may develop excellent visual thinking and 3D mechanical skills. This approach is also at the core of neurodiversity, which should encourage people to “embrace it as part of the mainstream” and “offer [neurodivergents] support, for full participation.” Later, McSherry focused on explaining autism’s main traits, how it often remains undiagnosed and “how intellectual functioning among autistic people varies widely, extending from profound impairment to superior levels.” She also pointed out how generally autistic people “thrive in a well organised, structured environment,” “give great attention to detail and focus,” “have a strong ability in recognising patterns,” and develop “exceptional factual knowledge and memory” along with non-judgemental, outside the box thinking.
According to the figures provided by Creative Equals Equality Standard, neurodivergents are twice as common as in other sectors and that roughly 20-30% of the people working in creative jobs, data science, account management departments and senior leadership are neurodivergent. Luckily enough, the Irish audiovisual industry is gradually raising awareness of these issues and fighting against the lack of reporting on disability, adopting a more proactive approach instead of a reactive one. Furthermore, in Screen Ireland’s new strategic plan on diversity (a follow-up on the previous four-year plan for the period 2016-2020), disability is expected to play a bigger role and a dedicated Code of Practice is in the works. Meanwhile, RTÉ’s current diversity plan aims to raise the number of employees with a disability from the current 5% to a minimum of 8%, and to educate its workforce on what diversity and inclusion mean. Beside the urgent need for education and training, a report published by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland in July recommends the State funds paid internship at production outfits for marginalised groups and provides adequate statutory support and resources for the regulator to help weave together equality, diversity and inclusion.
Next, Czarska talked through her short Mildly Different, which was shot with a neurodiverse cast and crew and stars IFTA nominee Jordanne Jones, who also took part in the seminar. In particular, she discussed the research process behind the making of the film, her own “emotional whirlwind of anger and relief” and the importance of learning the differences in ASD presentation. She added that getting involved in the autism community made her finally feel that she belonged somewhere and helped her accept herself. Conceived as a response to the lack of authentic experiences of autism portrayed in the media, Mildly Different follows a young woman on the autism spectrum who struggles with the world around her until the kindness of one person changes her life.
The event was rounded off by a Q&A session. You can watch a full recording of the seminar here.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.