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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 June, 2003, 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK
Office star's call for disabled roles
Fernandez has worked in the media for 10 years
Julie Fernandez, 29, star of BBC sitcom The Office and a leading disability rights campaigner, urges TV producers to put more disabled people on screen.

I have brittle bone disease, a genetic collagen defect which renders my bones thin and weak. I have had more than 70 operations.

But I am lucky to have had fantastic parents who never allowed me to use my disability as an excuse for anything.

What drove me on was having casting agents and producers saying: 'You are an excellent presenter but because you are in a wheelchair you will frighten people off.'

It is mainly the older generation who still have a mental attitude against anyone with a slight impairment, but slowly things are changing.

Julie Fernandez as Brenda in The Office
Fernandez played disabled Brenda in BBC Two's The Office
Broadcasters are said to be cautious about showing disabled people on TV, even though most viewers think the disabled should be better represented.

There are not enough people with disabilities in the mainstream media. People in the industry forget - there are a minimum of 8.6 million disabled people in this country. That is a huge untapped market of viewers.

We are in a minority and we find ourselves in the same place as black people, women and gay people were in some years ago. We are coming up as a movement to be accepted into society.

A lot of it boils down to people's personal fears: 'What if I don't understand what they are saying? What if I need to make the room accessible?'

Julie Fernandez
She was born with a brittle bone condition
As an able-bodied person the one thing you do not want to have to face is the possibility of having a disability yourself.

I am still extremely shocked that in 2003 disabled people - who have 50bn disposable income per annum in the UK - are not better represented in the media.

There is so much money there - but people are too scared to deal with disability.

The answer is very simple: Put a disabled person on Blue Peter, on EastEnders, reading the news.

We don't come from outer space - we are normal everyday people who have a disability. And there are a lot of us.

The reaction to my role in The Office has been fantastic
Julie Fernandez
I have worked in the media for 10 years, including roles in some high-profile series such as Eldorado and The Office.

I thought that The Office would be a good thing, in showing how easy it is to accommodate disability in the workplace.

The character Brenda was the most positive image of a disabled person on television in years.

The reaction to my role has been fantastic. It made a point of integrating a disabled character in a mainstream programme.

The Office was a real pleasure to work on, and it was helped by having a producer on the set who was a wheelchair user.

For the first time in my career I had a boss (producer Ash Atalla) who was a wheelchair user, with 30 able-bodied people working for him. He commands a lot of respect.

There is still a long way to go but it is definitely getting better.

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