The Narratives Surrounding Disability
he media is an incredibly powerful tool and is the shortcut to understanding experiences that are not our own. This is especially true when it comes to disability representation. While this can be a good thing because disabled people are being represented, the issue comes with how we are being represented. The media shows disabled people as only being one of two things - the poor disabled person who can’t get over the fact that disability has affected their life, or the inspirational person that despite all odds has overcome the challenges. Let’s take a closer look at these two narratives and why real disabled people need to be included in the representation that is created about them!
Why Is Representation Important?
When disabled people are pigeon-holed into only two narratives in the media and on TV with no in-between, this directly affects the way we are treated.
This kind of representation is a window into a life we don’t live and what people see on screen, they transfer into real life.
If you are visibly disabled, you become just like one of the characters people see on TV. When they then come across a disabled person in the wild (shocking I know!), they automatically try to categorise that person into one of those two camps.
The narrative of the poor disabled person teaches that disability is something to fear and is the worst thing that can happen to you; that your life is over if you become disabled.
This means that often people make comments like ‘I don’t know how you cope’ to the disabled people in their lives.
The alternative narrative portraying disabled people as inspiring by definition means that their disability is used as a motivation tool for others – ‘if this disabled person can overcome this, you have no excuses.’
The issue with this is that it paints disability as something that must be overcome, not something you can make peace with.
It’s not as simple as fitting disability neatly into a box and there are not just two options of whether you accept your disability or not. It’s more complex than that – there are as many disabilities as there are people, and in one lifetime we could never get to understand them all.
We are all different and that should be celebrated!
Just like everyone else, we have many layers to our personalities, and it might be a shock to learn that being disabled isn’t all we are.
Something as simple as showing disabled people as sexy is often missed because disabled people aren’t involved, but disabled people can be and are sexual.
If real disabled people are involved in the representation that is created about them, either on-screen or off, we make sure that they are given a voice. Only they can provide non-disabled people with an accurate insight into the reality of disabled life.
Representation can help society gain a better understanding of the challenges real-life disabled people face. Which they can then apply when meeting them in person.
The way we represent people in the media and on TV is key because it has a direct impact on people’s lives and relationships.
This is why involving disabled people in representation matters so much!