‘It’s just so basic’: Why firms should be employing disabled people both in front of and behind the cameras

 Ian Treherne: 'Being a blind photographer is a great way to confuse people'
Ian Treherne: 'Being a blind photographer is a great way to confuse people'

Is this legal firm's touching new campaign produced by the most inclusive team ever?

Law firm Irwin Mitchell’s new campaign "The human touch" – which features real clients sharing personal stories about the life-changing outcomes of their cases – deserves to be applauded.

Not only does it show deeply sensitive real-life stories – such as that of a client who was left with cerebral palsy after suffering a brain injury due to medical negligence – but it was born of a dedication to inclusivity that saw a production team made up of almost 60% of differently abled people in the most senior roles.

Created by Merkle B2B, Annex and director Oscar Carris, the project was shot by blind photographer Ian Treherne, who was mentored by Rankin; make-up was by artist Bryanna Angel Ryder, who has lupus and partial hearing; and music was by blind and autistic musician Derek Paravicini. A behind-the-scenes "statement film" captured by wheelchair user and director Owen Tooth will be launched on 27 September during National Inclusion Week.

Treherne, who also shot behind-the-scenes images and portraits of the athletes for Channel 4’s Tokyo Paralympic Games 2020 July campaign "Super. Human." spoke to Campaign about the two-day shoot.

He said: “Being a blind photographer is a great way to confuse people and hurt their brains a little bit. You can see them thinking: ‘Is he allowed to take photos? But he can't see’. I get that a lot.

“There is a lot of questioning about what I'm able to do and I always say, ‘Well, just have a look at the work and you can judge if it's any good’.”

Treherne has a degenerative eye condition and is legally blind with just 5% eyesight. He was born profoundly deaf and later in his teenage years started to lose his eyesight. He has a condition called RP Type 2, commonly known as tunnel vision.

Treherne said: “When I got approached for the job, I was really hoping that it wouldn't be a one-off tokenistic job and that it would be something that they would look to continue to do, because part of what I do as a photographer is push the inclusion revolution.”

Any reservations Treherne may have had have been proven to be baseless: since the shoot, Merkle B2B’s executive creative director Jason Fletcher has made a personal vow “never to do it the old-fashioned way again".

Fletcher told Campaign: “It’s the first time I’ve been on set where I’ve become truly emotional when I realised the extent of the immense talent that we had discovered.

“Why would I want to go back to the ‘lazy’ way? Why would I want to sit in a little room with a computer and a keyboard, when we can use people like our musician Derek to create music like you’ve never heard before? Why shouldn’t we give more Dereks more opportunities?”

The brief from Irwin Mitchell had been to focus on inclusivity, but it was Fletcher and his team who took the idea behind the cameras too.

He said: “A big part of their business comes from personal injury: such as people who have been in accidents and who feel like they’ve lost hope, and that’s where I came back to them and said, ‘Well actually, you guys are already opening the door of opportunity to people who have been going through these problems – can we do the same thing?’”

Fletcher points out: “We’re not the first to use differently abled creators, but I don’t think we’re aware of anybody ever doing it quite on this scale.

“We’ve got to keep this going; whether we can get 60% every time, who knows? But I’ve made a commitment to many people in this process that I don’t see why we would ever do it any other way and I think we have to look at that as an industry as a whole.

“If I do nothing else but get someone to think, ‘Maybe we should try to be more inclusive', then I’ve done my job. The more I can do that, the more I think we’ll get to change the industry.”

The agency began the recruitment process by speaking to the BFI, which has a disability screen advisory group, and met with Channel 4, whose Paralympic films have been multi-award-winning. Merkle also researched Facebook groups for differently abled creatives and specialist talent agencies.

A shortlist was created and individuals were asked to pitch their work to Rankin and Carris, respectively.

Treherne said: “It was an absolute buzz on set, it was able bodies trying to work around disabled worlds and it was lovely. For me it was the first time where I kind of felt like: ‘God you know this is what it could be like', and that's something that we [the disabled community have] been fighting for a long time.

"It was really exciting to see people being keen and excited about working with people that they've never worked with before, and it was such a learning curve for them. In many ways, for me it was just another day, dealing with my blindness and working with it.

“But they got it very quickly and I think they're starting to realise: ‘This is not that hard to do. It's just a few things that we need to be aware of,’ like, ‘He's a wheelchair user’, so you just need some basic things like a ramp. It's just those little things that just need to be thought about and I'm hoping these considerations will become company policy. It really is that basic. Sometimes I think people think too far ahead and actually just need to ask us instead of overcomplicating things.

“Inclusion should become a regular thing. It’s still all very new, and we're still modernising it and finessing it but eventually I’d like to see it normalised and I’m very confident it can happen.

“You'd be surprised; a lot of big companies are still reluctant to hire someone that has got a disability. It’s about them changing, it’s not about us. We’ve been doing the same thing, knocking on the doors, asking to be involved and I think the commercial world is starting to realise they have got to up their game.

“If I can inspire future photographers, people with disabilities, whether they're blind or have got some other kind of condition, by showing them and creating these opportunities for the future and next generation, I’ll feel like I've done my part. That’s my main goal, and when they come in, hopefully by then everything will a bit more set up.”

Victoria Brackett, chief commercial officer at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Our new campaign considers the emotional transitions our clients go through as they navigate life’s ups and downs. When our clients come to us, they often display negative emotions such as concern and stress. Our personal, human approach helps turn these negative emotions into positive ones.

“Whether this means a good honest heart-to-heart with a personal injury client, taking the time to establish a deeper understanding of a business, or planning for retirement – these are the human touch moments that matter and that set us apart.

“We took an inclusive approach to producing this campaign that will change public perceptions within the broadcast industry. As well as using real clients, not actors, we’ve assembled a behind-the-camera team made up of people who are often overlooked: those with disabilities both hidden and visible. It's about giving opportunities to talented individuals who don’t always receive the opportunities they deserve.”

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