Thursday, October 30, 2014

Question: Representation of Disability in the Media

I have to make a presentation about representation of disability in the media and was wondering if any of my lovely followers who have a disability - mental or physical - could send me a quick message about how you feel regarding how the media portrays it?? It can be specific to your disability or more general, but it would be really helpful :) thanks!!

First, check out Tonia's Big List of Resources for Learning About Disabilities for examples of positive media representation.  

As far as negative media representation, I'd say Glee.  I'm a Glee fan, but their disability representation is really awful.  The one disabled character who has been there from the beginning is portrayed by an able-bodied actor, the character is constantly lamenting his lack of "normalcy."  He used to be completely excluded from musical numbers.  And he's often the butt of "jokes" that are supposed to be funny, but in no way are.  He gets called dehumanizing names by the staff (and refers to himself in those terms.)  And he has dream sequences at least once a season where he can get up out of his chair and start dancing.  He has completely unrealistic ideas about his injury and recovery, and just wallows in self-pity all the time.  His character has a spinal cord injury and uses a wheelchair.  (I have Cerebral Palsy, and use a wheelchair.)

Another one would have been the remake of Ironside from 2013.  Another character with a spinal cord injury who  was portrayed by an able-bodied actor, angry all the time at his injury, and he didn't use a wheelchair the way wheelchair users do.  He used it the way able-bodied people would.  It just seemed awkward.

The thing you come away with watching TV with an eye toward representation of people with physical disabilities is that we rarely, if ever, actually see ourselves in these roles.  (Or in other words, able bodied actors are cast to play the parts of characters with physical disabilities.)  Not only that, but we also deal with whatever the writers' prejudices are toward people with disabilities being perpetuated on screen, because there's no one to speak against them.  There's no one to tell them, people in wheelchairs don't sit like this, or move like this, or refer to themselves as muppets.  If they get discriminated against, in terms of school and accessibility, that's a violation of the ADA and you can't fix it with a bake sale.  At the very least, that character's parents should have come to school and stood up for their kid.

Also, I've almost never read a book with a disabled protagonist.  Most of the books I see written with disabled main characters are written by able-bodied authors, so they, too, are missing an authentic voice.  Or we are meant to sympathize with an able-bodied character's journey, as they "have to" work at a camp for disabled kids.  We're told her prejudices are okay because they're "real" or because the author has a kid with a disability.

Feel free to check out my representation matters tag for more on this!  And if you have any more questions, please let me know!