Researching gender, popular music, and mental ill-health: the experience and representations of female popular musicians and bipolar disorder – Sarah Sharpe (university of East Anglia)

Research in popular music and mental health has shown that a high prevalence of mental health problems is caused by working in the industry, for example, Bellis et al, (2012) and Gross and Musgrave (2016, 2017). There is however little focus on high-profile musicians with a diagnosis of mental ill-health. 

As a musician and researcher of popular music with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder/anxiety and depression disorder, I understand the complexities and stressors which, whilst trying to manage an education and a career in the creative industries, can worsen a pre-existing mental illness. These include feminist issues such as misogyny, attitudes regarding the body (particularly what is deemed attractive and the notion of thinness), work overload, and acceptance from colleagues as a woman with a disability. 

Focusing on six female high-profile popular musicians with a current or past diagnosis of bipolar disorder, thematic analysis, and textual analysis are used to evaluate representations and experiences of mental ill-health, using media texts and documentaries from the UK and USA. The interdisciplinary theatrical framework of feminist and cultural disability studies, media, celebrity, and popular music studies are used. 

This paper aims to understand how the media and musicians (self)-represent the experiences of female musicians with bipolar disorder, and the identifiable situations and stressors they face whilst working within the popular music industry. How are issues of bipolar disorder dealt with within the popular music industry? Might the operations of the industry be detrimental to high-profile female musicians’ mental health? 

Advancing Neurodiversity in the Creative Industries: Fostering Inclusion and Leveraging the Unique Talents of Neurodivergent Individuals – Ahmed Alduais (University of Verona)

Background: The creative industries, encompassing fields such as film, television, music, and design, are well-suited for fostering innovation and originality. In order to fully embrace diverse perspectives, it is essential to recognize and support the unique strengths of neurodivergent individuals with mental health conditions and disabilities. This paper aims to examine the concept and benefits of neurodiversity in the creative industries, and propose strategies for promoting inclusion and leveraging the talents of neurodivergent professionals. 
Methods: A comprehensive literature review was conducted to explore the current state of neurodiversity in the creative industries, drawing on case studies, best practices, and relevant research. Additionally, interviews were conducted with successful neurodivergent creatives and industry leaders to gain insight into their experiences and perspectives. 
Results: The findings reveal that neurodivergent individuals possess unique strengths and perspectives that can contribute to a richer and more innovative creative output. However, they often face barriers to inclusion and participation. Strategies for promoting neurodiversity in the creative industries include targeted recruitment, mentoring programs, flexible work arrangements, and workplace accommodations. The implementation of these strategies can lead to a more inclusive environment that values and nurtures the talents of neurodivergent individuals. 
Conclusion: By embracing neurodiversity and fostering an inclusive environment, the creative industries can benefit from the unique insights, talents, and perspectives of neurodivergent individuals with mental health conditions and disabilities. The proposed strategies offer practical solutions for industry leaders, educators, and policymakers to enhance inclusion and leverage the potential of neurodivergent creatives, ultimately contributing to a more diverse and representative creative output. 

Enhancing Health Discourse in The Creative Industry: A Study Of Media Representations Of Child Sexual Abuse In Nigerian Online Media Platforms – Lydia Onuegbu 

Health is a subject that cannot be exhausted and its importance in our lives cannot be overemphasized. As one of the fastest growing industries in the world, the creative industry remains one that wields great power in influencing people’s perception and response to issues across the globe; health inclusive. This paper attempts to examine health discourse in the creative industry with special focus on child sexual abuse and how it is represented by the media in Nigerian online platforms. Child sexual abuse is a global phenomenon and poses a major health risk; however, adequate attention is yet to been given to media representation of this problem in Nigeria, which is why it should be studied. This work investigates how some Nigerian blogs report child sexual abuse, the stereotypes attached to victims and offenders, as well as how cultural and religious perceptions influence its representation in Nigeria. Using Stuart Halls’ Representation Theory, the paper argues that media texts have the power to shape an audience’s knowledge and understanding of important matters; therefore, good media representation of issues is important as it influences people’s opinions about themselves and how others see or perceive them. The findings of this paper shall be used to inform public policy on the dissemination of information of child sexual abuse and strengthen the fight against the menace.  

“Celebrate Us”: Disability Pride in the Australian Screen Industry – Dr Radha O’Meara Anna Debinjki  Liminal Disabled Tweens’ Identification with Disney Animations in Algeria – Selma Aitsaid (Leicester University)  

Disney canon texts (mainly animations) are believed to have authority over children’s identities. However, much of the research on Disney tends to focus either on textual analysis, and/ or Western audiences. In fact, there is a lack in the literature on Disney child audiences from non-Western countries though Disney is a global media corporation that appeals to audiences from all over the world and is believed by some critics to be inclusive of minorities. (Brode 2005; Resene 2015; Perea 2018; Grodal 2007). 

To address this, I have conducted qualitative research involving interviewing 25 Algerian disabled tweens between the ages 11 to 14 on their familiarity and identification with Disney animations in order to decolonize disability in Algeria and Algerian audiences, which are framed via Global North generalizations and hegemony. This paper will share some of my key findings. 

My findings suggest that the postcolonial context has an impact on how my participants identify with Disney animated texts. For instance, Disney becomes a social and cultural capital for Algerian tweens when dubbed in French, the colonizer’s language. Another finding demonstrated that the Western concept of Tweenhood is imported to the MENA region through Disney animations, recontextualized/ censored in order to fit the conservative context. 

Tween themes such as same-sex friendship and the sparkling pink for girls are emphasized whereas opposite-sex romance is replaced with marriage through Arabic dubbing. Despite these modifications, my participants still showed an active engagement with Disney animations by interpreting the texts socially and politically while taking into consideration their conservative context.

Observation vs Categorization – a case study of neurodivergence in film – Rhys Davies (De Montfort University)

From Leicester to Hollywood – how to make a movie for 43 pounds (2023) is a mocumentary feature film produced by neurodivergent creators Rhys Davies and Rod Duncan. The story – a love letter to indie cinema – follows their fictional counterparts as they attempt to film an epic romance with no funding. It is populated with characters who struggle to conform to social expectations, who might be regarded as neurodivergent but are not explicitly identified as such. 

For example: 

•          A homeless editor who sleeps on the floor of the editing suite. 

•          Horror fans who become themselves when adorned with zombie makeup. 

•          A reclusive and paranoid writer. 

•          A director, so fixated on the goal of creating movies that he can’t hold down a regular job.

These characters were not modelled on real individuals. Rather, they were created to display the array of unusual characteristics Rhys and Rod observed in the indie filmmaking community, including in themselves. 

Anti-discrimination legislation necessarily relies on the categorization of people as either having or not having differences such as ADHD, Dyslexia and Autism. But each of these neurological differences is more accurately described in terms of a spectrum. Furthermore, there is considerable difference in the way these conditions manifest, and overlap in their characteristics. (For example, sensory processing disorder and executive function deficit are common to ADHD and Autism.) It is perhaps unsurprising that portrayals of neurodivergent characters produced by neurodivergent creators rely more on the close observation of individuals and less on explicit categorization/labelling and the associated stereotypes. 

This raises a question about the social value of observation vs categorisation/labelling of neurodivergent characters portrayed in art.

Let the mind see: The operation of cinemas for blind in China and blind people’s encounter with film – Yutian Ren (Hongkong Baptist University) 

“If I lose my eyesight, will I be able to watch films?” Since the first cinema for the blind was established in Beijing in 2005, over the past decade, cinemas for the blind have gradually spread from big cities to more remote towns, and the number of them in China has reached hundreds. Through field visits to the cinemas for blind people in Beijing, Wuhan, and Hong Kong, and interviews with stakeholders, this study discusses the support and obstacles that those special cinemas are facing and reveals the experience and feelings of blind people in the process of film-watching. 

Although blind people cannot see moving images, they can use their imagination to create visual pictures in their minds through the vivid description of the film narrators. Narrating film orally, also known as “barrier-free film” or ” audio description (descriptive video service)”, is not easy to do. The narrators need to deal with the details of the images, the complicated relationships between the fictional characters, perhaps the difficulties of dialect, and so on. They also need to quickly organize the language and depict it to the blind audience in the intervals between the shots. In order to enable the blind to enjoy films as well as the able-bodied, a large number of movie explanation texts have been written and recorded into audio. Under the epidemic situation, more and more volunteers are looking for ways to broadcast/record films for blind people at home. 

According to statistics, the total number of blind people in China reached 23 million in 2022, making China the country with the the biggest amount of blind people in the world. Special cinemas for them is of great significance, as the founder of China’s first cinema for the blind said, “Disabled people want to be treated equally. Disability is every of us will face, shortsighted need to wear glasses, old need to use crutches, these are all disabilities. The heart of the disabled is like a room, which is often filled with discrimination, ridicule, attacks, and insults. And a cinema for them can decorate the room in the heart: to put the good stuff in, and squeeze the bad stuff out.” Although daily entertainment and cultural activities for the blind have received increasing attention, cinemas for the blind have gradually transformed from a model initiated by individual volunteers to a public welfare network supported by the government, film companies, and non-governmental organizations. However, descriptive video service is still in its infancy, and there is still no corresponding law or policy, and society lacks the recognition of such service. Better policies and regulations, such as free use of copyright, could help push descriptive video services, such as cinemas for the blind to reach wider regions.

More Than Words: Access to the Arts and Employment through Audio Description – Dr. Tabitha Kenlon, Susan Glass, and Dr. Joel Snyder (American Council for the Blind)

Many people who are blind or have low vision feel (and often are) excluded from creative arts that seem to require a normative level of eyesight; this panel will focus on the role of the written and spoken word to make film, theatre, and literature more accessible. The World Blind Union estimates that approximately 253 million people are blind or partially sighted, and even in the most highly-developed industrialized countries, unemployment rates for this population are shockingly high. Audio Description (AD) is a translation of images to words, a process that makes visual images of the arts and media accessible for people who are blind or have low vision. Most importantly, it is by and for this population. The American Council of the Blind’s Audio Description Project (ADP) works to increase access to the arts at every level, from the training of describers to advocacy to creation.

In the panel, three speakers will share their personal experiences and professional expertise with accessibility, the arts, and audio description. The presentations will demonstrate the power of inclusion by elucidating the achievements and potential of audio description across the creative arts.

Tabitha Kenlon

This presentation combines scholarship with the lived experience of working with and through a progressive disability. I will begin with a personal story of my searches for accessible materials as a partially-sighted doctoral student in Boston, as a university professor teaching writing and literature in Dubai, as a leader of nonacademic reading groups (one on the eighteenth century and one on disability studies) in the US, and again as a post-grad in Dublin attempting to make a career change during the pandemic. I will relate how my time living with a disability in three countries culminated in a master’s thesis focused on the Marrakesh Treaty and a commitment to international disability rights and inclusion.

I will conclude with a brief precis of the American Council of the Blind’s Audio Description Project (ADP), explaining what it is and how it advocates for and educates about audio description (AD) by forming relationships with industry, artists, and consumers. Examples will include the ADP Conference, the UniDescription project, and recent AD success stories.

Susan Glass

A blind retired English professor, poet, and AD trainer, will explore multiple ways of engaging with writing – visually, haptically, and aurally. I will share the parallel stories of learning to see through all of my senses as a congenitally blind person, coming of age in language as a braille reader and beneficiary of audio description, and publishing a poetry book that combines braille, print, precise language, and illustrations into a multi-sensory experience accessible to blind and sighted readers alike. 

I will begin by describing my childhood memories of audio description and audio radio dramas. I will also discuss my first recollections of learning to read braille, and immediately connecting braille to my perceptions of nature. I’ll also tell the story of how my sighted colleagues at Slate Roof Press and I worked together to publish my poetry book, The Wild Language of Deer.               

Additionally, the field of audio description provides opportunities for me to play with language. I will discuss my experience as a trainer of audio description writers, as I work with creators of audio description to most effectively convey visual action or images to people with blindness or low vision. Evocative word choice, alliteration, and other techniques can bring visual elements vividly to life.

Joel Snyder

The founder of the Audio Description Project (ADP), will briefly delineate the art of creating effective audio description (AD) and then explain the social and economic benefits of AD. Audio description is a translation of images to words, a process that makes visual images of the arts and media accessible for people who are blind or have low vision. Most importantly, it is for and by this population: the concept was first proposed within the US government by a blind man, Chet Avery, and the world’s first audio description service was developed by a blind woman, Dr. Margaret Pfanstiehl.

Four decades later, people who are blind work in the audio description industry as producers, quality control consultants, voice talents, and audio engineers or editors. In the United States. the primary constituency for audio description has an unemployment rate of approximately 70%. This paper will argue that with more meaningful access to culture and its resources, provided at least in part by AD, people become more informed and engaged with society, and thus, increasingly employable, within the field of AD and more broadly.

Neurodiversity Workshop – Eleanor McSherry (ACE at University College Cork) 

The Continuing Professional Development Certificate in Neurodiversity in the Screen Industry is a course that is designed specifically for the screen industry by screen industry professionals, including Screen Ireland, at University College Cork. This is the first course on this subject matter anywhere accredited by a university. The course is aimed at anyone interested, who works in the screen industry, in fostering a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace and the screen industry. This is for practitioners who are interested in learning more about neurodiversity and how it relates to the screen industry.

This workshop offers an introduction to the course.

It will cover:

  • An introduction to the course, the coordinator, and What is Neurodiversity?
  • A general look at what is currently happening in this area in Ireland and UK (policy-wise) in the screen industry
  • It finishes with some practical advice on how life can be made easier for people who fit under the neurodiverse umbrella of the screen industry.

ELEANOR MCSHERRY is based in Limerick city, working full time for Adult Continuing Education at University College Cork (ACE at UCC) and part-time for Hibernia College Dublin. She has a Bachelor of Arts (hons) degree and a Master of Arts (by research) from Mary Immaculate College (University of Limerick). She is currently doing her PhD by research in Maynooth University. She also has a Postgraduate (Level 9) Diploma in Teaching and Learning for Third Level from UCC and has two national forum badges in teaching through digital media.  She lectures and gives workshops, in the areas of neurodiversity in the screen industry, autism studies, advocacy, disability studies, mental health, film scriptwriting, creative writing, film and media. She designs courses for industry and is currently doing her PhD with in Maynooth University’s Media Department, ‘a Foucauldian Discourse analysis of Autism in Television Drama Production’. She also provides consultancy to projects and productions in the UK and Ireland on Neurodiversity.

AI – Boon or Bust? – Colin Dyter (social activist and researcher)

In our Post-Pandemic, Anti-Truth era, is Artificial Intelligence an existential threat to our Race? Or is it a boon to humanity’s imagination and inventiveness, to help us survive with a new agenda of Hope?  Our species stands on the brink of an Extinction Event through climate change, famine, diaspora, genocide, and the possibility of Nuclear War.  We desperately need stories – and storytellers – to guide us and to give us strength and purpose to solve these problems.  AI’s feared prospects have recently added to our sense of impending enslavement – or worse – by the Machines of our own creation. But there is another definition of AI which is not so destructive, and actually augments our future prospects. It’s called Authentic Intelligence – intelligence of the human heart and soul, or in other words “thinking with a conscience.” Machines cannot do this, no matter how cleverly they are programmed. They cannot feel joy, experience pain, to dream or to wonder, know love, or to willingly sacrifice themselves for others. It’s untenable that they could form coalitions or elect leaders for the common good, even though our present human incumbents are so spectacularly inept. The future of the human race lies in the rediscovery of our uniqueness and the celebration of our diversity.  To do this we need to adopt a monolithic paradigm, where the whole meets a single purpose, or authenticity. This cannot be imposed, but must be taught in our schools, colleges and universities. This involves a seismic shift in our teaching methods, where knowledge is not drizzled-down teaching, but full-flow experiential learning through Sturm und Drang involvement where Imagination surpasses Intellect. This approach demands the inclusion of all people, especially those with neuro- and gender-diverse issues surrounding their individual identities within a community, and whose stories are often fundamentally ignored by mainstream media and performance producers. 
I will illustrate this with an audience-active demonstration of Kaleidoscoping, a version of “prismatic thinking” and an AI adjunct, to create individually unique story characters who collectively represent facets of the Human Condition that cannot ever be replicated by replicants.

COLIN DYTER is a writer, script consultant, and independent researcher.  He was previously Leader of Professional Writing at the University of Derby for 14 years, where he likes to think he secretly introduced sedition into his curriculum.  Before that he was a filmmaker, comedy scriptwriter, and a national newspaper journalist of which he is less proud. He is now involved with social activism groups as a multimedia producer and advisor, helping to achieve stated benefits for communities through the power of Storytelling as a Catalyst for Change.

‘Mental Health and Disability Equality in the Creative Industries’ Symposium

AMH23 forms part of a British Academy Innovation Fellowship project that examines inequality in the UK’s creative sector.

Please contact the event organisers at the below email address with any questions or queries: