Optomen lands 'groundbreaking' BBC2 disability series


BBC2 commissions Optomen series ""Employ Me" which will highlight the difficulties faced by people with neurological conditions who want to work - but can't find an employer to take them on.


Kim Shillinglaw, Controller, BBC TWO and FOUR and Alison Kirkham, Head of Commissioning, Factual Formats & Features and Live Events, have commissioned Employ Me (working title), a three part series from Optomen. This will examine the life changing stories of unemployed people in the UK struggling to find jobs because of a neurological condition.

From autism and Tourette Syndrome to ADHD and Down’s Syndrome, the series will follow qualified and/or capable people – many of whom have been trying to find work for years - as they try to overcome the hurdles of their condition, change employers’ perceptions, and hopefully land a job. At the series’ heart is a radical new emerging idea in science:  that neurological conditions shouldn’t always be looked at in negative terms. Many conditions may mask talents and skills that UK employers would find invaluable if they only took time to discover them, or took a more inclusive approach to people with neurological disabilities.

Packed with emotion, warmth and humour the series will follow a ‘neurodiverse’ range of unemployed people across the UK as they hunt for the job that fits their unique skillset, navigate the challenges of the interview process, and hopefully secure employment that will transform their lives.

It can be hard to find a job, but for those with neurological conditions it can be almost impossible. Those diagnosed with neurodiverse conditions are less likely to be employed than those with physical disabilities; the employment rate for people with autism, for example, is just 15%. An entire section of society is unable to gain employment despite being qualified, skilled and desperate to earn a wage.

Some employers see only the potential problems that might come with employing people whose brains are wired differently - the deficits of their condition; but what if they looked at things from a completely different perspective? A pioneering new area of scientific thought is challenging the received wisdom that disability only brings deficits, documenting that there is another side to the coin: that many people with neuro-developmental conditions have strengths, not just disabilities.

Optomen television is working with Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University, on this new documentary series.

Professor Baron-Cohen commented: “The concept of ‘neurodiversity’ reminds us that there isn’t a single way to be ‘normal’. In the case of Asperger syndrome, it is particularly clear that people can have the diagnosis and have skills and even strengths, alongside their disabilities.”

He added: “Employers need to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to enable people with such neurological conditions to enjoy the same benefits that employment brings as other people do. And once employers have opened their eyes to how to make it easier for such people to make their contribution in the work place, they may even discover how the person with the diagnosis is actually better than other employees in certain invaluable ways. For the person with the diagnosis, employment (with the right support) may be a powerful way to change their life immeasurably for the better and prevent the negative impact on mental health – such as depression - that is associated with unemployment.”

A spokesman for Business Disability Forum said: “At Business Disability Forum (BDF) we have many members and partners looking to increase the numbers of disabled colleagues they employ.

Companies are recognising that the qualities associated with some Neurodiverse conditions such as autism could bring positive business benefits and are actively looking to tap into this potential by actively looking to recruit in this area.”

Kim Shillinglaw said: “I’m really pleased to be bringing this powerful and thought-provoking new series to BBC Two. Underpinned by the latest scientific thinking, I hope the series will provide real insight and challenge the way we all think about people living with a range of neurological conditions.”

Alison Kirkham said: “This is a really important and ground breaking series, which promises to be both emotional and far reaching”

Sue Murphy, Optomen’s Creative Director, said “It’s fantastic to be making a series for BBC Two which combines science and emotional transformative narratives. Our aim with the series is not just to challenge Companies to employ neuro-diverse people, but also to inspire the audience to think differently about people with these conditions.”

Employ Me will deliver a range of bold, emotional, personal stories with real purpose where featured individuals will be judged in terms of what they can do rather than prejudged in terms of what they struggle with.

Employ Me (w/t) is produced by Optomen Television. The Series Producer is Emily Smith and Executive Producer is Patrick Furlong. Alison Kirkham is the Commissioning Editor for the BBC.

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