Rose Ayling-Ellis: ‘I’m done with being token deaf character on TV’ | Rose Ayling-Ellis

The actor Rose Ayling-Ellis has said she is tired of playing the “token deaf character” in shows and says the TV industry needs to have more realistic storylines for disabled people.

The Strictly Come Dancing winner also said she felt enormous pressure as the most prominent deaf actor in the UK.

“I have to break through countless barriers to get to where I am. It’s been a lonely, upsetting journey, and whilst winning Strictly was an amazing experience, it shouldn’t be allowed to conceal the hardships I have been through to get here.”

She said as a young actor she missed out on opportunities because she did not have an agent, did not go to drama school, and did not have enough experience.

“But here’s the thing, an agent wouldn’t take me on because they didn’t think I could get enough work; I couldn’t get into drama school because it was not accessible; and I didn’t have enough experience because there is not enough deaf roles written,’ she said.

“How is a young deaf actor supposed to get their foot in the door, when the door is firmly shut on them from the start?”

She eventually landed a regular role in EastEnders, which she said transformed her life. But Ayling-Ellis added: “It’s time for deaf staff to be brought into the scripting process if they want to be realistic”.

The actor said there were often unrealistic elements in the show: “They will write my characters who are in a room with a big group of people arguing with each other, following everything that is being said and even repeating things back to them.

“Or they will write my character as lipreading someone from impossibly far away – like I have a superpower, which is not realistic at all. I am playing a deaf character that is either written as a hearing person or as a deaf stereotype.”

She emphasized that being deaf “is my proudest identity” and did not need to hold her back. She said: “I am disabled because I live and work in a world that disables me.”

She made the comments while delivering the Alternative MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh TV festival.

Addressing the media executives in attendance, she said: “It is my hope that, by sharing my thoughts and feelings, I will encourage you to think about how you can improve the experiences of deaf people when you hire them. We are no longer prepared to be your inspiration token on screen.”

“I am done with being the token deaf character. I believe that diverse, rich and fascinating deaf stories are ready to go mainstream and that we can do this, together.”

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