We caught up with the presenter and campaigner to find out about his latest programme, The Ugly Face of Disability.
The programme is part of BBC Three’s Defying the Label season, which aims to explore disability, poverty, hate crime, sex and romance in 15 specialist programmes over four weeks.
Yet Pearson, a former BBC and Channel 4 researcher who also starred in Channel 4’s Beauty and the Beast, argues that the BBC season is a ‘double-edged sword’. While there’s been progress in discussing disability on primetime TV, Pearson hopes to get to a stage where disabled people can appear on screen without “the need for a special season or with such a big song and dance”.
Yet Pearson says disability representation has "improved leaps and bounds" in the last few years thanks to the broadcaster's continued commitment for representation.
But he’s under no illusion that one TV programme or indeed the season will instantly remove prejudice. “Change in any kind is a slow process. It’s going to be a very organic process so slowly but surely it will happen over time. And it’s imperative to get more disabled people on screen as well as off screen”. His aim is to “spark debate and challenge people to think in a way that might be difficult.” Pearson notes that Channel 4’s The Undateables was remarkable in changing people’s perceptions of disability.
Meanwhile, Damian Kavanagh, Controller of BBC Three, says the series will “challenge the views of our savvy audiences whilst questioning perspectives and attitudes towards young disabled people in the UK today”.
Hate crime is an issue close to Pearson’s heart. Growing up with Neurofibromatosis, a condition that caused non-cancerous tumours on his face led him to be on the receiving end of online abuse. He’s sadly not alone. In 2013/14, there were 1,985 recorded cases of disability hate crimes in England and Wales and statistics from the Disability Hate Crime Network revealed that 57% of disabled people are attacked on the streets. Yet his vision for The Ugly Face of Disability was starkly different to the route of "Channel 5’s sensationalism or TLC’s favoured ‘pity party’ depiction". He says the BBC programme, produced by Betty, had to be something accessible that viewers could “get behind and agree with. Unless you have a likeable talent, they won’t listen”.
So what’s next for the campaigner? Pearson says he plans on using his platform to ensure disabled hate crime is dealt with on the same level as race and religious hate crime. He plans on making some more documentaries and getting the issue on politicians’ radars.
So will the BBC’s The Ugly Face of Disability help shape public perception to take the issue of prejudice more seriously? Perhaps we will continue to see more media representation of disability and Adam Pearson won’t be the exception. After all, as he says: “Good TV changes what you think. Great TV changes how you think".