When filmmaker Sarah Barton started No Limits more than a decade ago, she had already received critical acclaim for her 1995 film Untold Desires, securing SBS its first Logie Award for its portrayal of disability and sexuality. From the start, No Limits had one aim. “We wanted to put disability on television,” Barton says. “I think the Australian community has a lot of goodwill for people with disabilities, but there’s a lot of ignorance about what the issues are.”

At last Wednesday’s Antenna Awards, No Limits was recognised as the Program of the Year, and earned the Outstanding Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Program award for its episode on disability in the Solomon Islands. Barton says that even approaching its 14th season, the show is still a potent way of changing attitudes. “I used to get emails from people saying, ‘I don’t know anyone with a disability, but now that I’ve watched your show I’m a whole lot more comfortable talking to them’,” Barton says. "It seems strange, but a lot of people are afraid of saying the wrong thing. No Limits is about breaking down misconceptions and fears.”

The show is produced by Disability Media Australia and makes a point of employing people with disabilities in all areas of production. “We do a lot of behind the scenes training, doing work that people never would imagine that people with disabilities do,” says Barton. This makes the show a unique training ground for people who are often excluded from the industry. “There are people who don’t have the opportunity to be heard and be seen,” says Barton. “Plus they can have a little break from showing everyone how integrated they are, which is sometimes exhausting in a world that doesn’t quite get it.”

Despite all this No Limits ‘future is far from guaranteed. Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s plans to evict community television from the airwaves are now underway. The plug will be pulled in 2015, after which No Limits and other community shows like it, will have to fend for themselves online.

Barton is clear about where that would leave the show. “Our audience numbers aren’t huge, but they’re much more significant than what we would get online,” says Barton. “Television is still the rockstar platform. Anyone can make a YouTube video, but not everyone can make television. It’s a big selling point for getting people involved. They know their story is going to reach a significant audience.”

“I suspect the minister doesn’t fully understand how strong community TV is,” Barton says. “It’s so dismissive of the value of so much work, so much Australian content, so much training, and so many future stars and all the people behind the scenes. There’s nowhere else for them to train. The value of all of that is really underestimated.” Barton estimates that if you were to put a dollar value on the work community TV does, it would be in the millions. “But no one’s going to sit down and do the accounting. We’re too busy making television.”

Despite the bleak outlook, the feeling in the room at the Antenna Awards was not one of defeat. “The decision has been made, but the community doesn’t believe it can’t be overturned,” says Barton. “I’d love the opportunity to show the minister what we do and why it’s important.” “He’s welcome to drop in anytime he likes.”

No Limits returns to Channel 31 for its 14th season in early December.

disabilitymedia.org.au/no-limits
c31.org.au
mentalhealthvic.org.au