Disability and the media: Is it an accurate reflection of society?

Recently, we have been discussing the topic of Ableism. After researching what ableism is, I was surprised at the lack of information and awareness of what it even is. When thinking about how to spread awareness, immediately I thought the media would have such a great influence. The media, whether it be social media or even coverage on the news, has a major impact on society and the attitudes and values that are instilled within it. Awareness has been increasing, especially with disability being portrayed within more movies and TV shows, such as a character using a wheelchair in Glee or a character with a prosthetic limb in Grey’s Anatomy. However, compared to the greater scheme of things, the numbers still stay minute. This blog carousel presents blogs that discuss how the media affects the portrayal of those with disabilities and lists some movies/films that represent disability realistically.

Blog # 1: Common Portrayals of Persons with Disability

In this blog, the stereotyping of individuals with disabilities in the media is explored. Individuals who have disabilities are often categorized into different groups: the victim, the hero, or the villain. As the victim, persons with disabilities are presented as an object of pity or sympathy. The writer will portray a character with noticeable characteristics that evoke feelings in the audience or reader. In The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, the character has a hunched back and is treated horribly by others in society, eliciting a sense of pity from the audience. Another way individuals with disabilities are portrayed is as the hero. The character proves his or her worth by overcoming the disability and becoming more “normal.” The character can even possess “superhuman” like qualities that allows an individual to function and succeed in everyday life and tasks. This poses some issues.  Characters who are disabled, but are played by non-disabled actors, may present a false picture of disability. In addition, this portrayal may reinforce the notion that disability can be overcome when an individual “tries hard enough,” which is not always as easy as it sounds. The third portrayal is the role of the villain. Physical disabilities can be used to suggest evil or depravity, like pirates having missing hands, legs, and eyes. In this categorization, individuals may be led to a life of crime because of the resentment of their disability or because of some mental illness, like the Joker in The Dark Knight. All of these stereotypes can be seen in movies we watch every day, but we fail to realize the trend of this categorization happening.


Blog # 2: Disability in Film

In this blog, Ryan criticizes the need to portray individuals with disabilities as the victim, hero, or villain stereotypes. He believes that a large problem is that the entertainment industry simply needs opportunities to become educated about how to work with actors with intellectual disability and how to weave them into story lines as a part of the natural fabric of a natural scene. He states the need to portray how disabilities are embedded in our everyday society. Writers do not need to call them out as the center of attention in a polarizing manner as good or bad. They just need to portray scenes and scripts that are a portrayal of everyday life.


Blog # 3: Needed: Inclusion of Disability on TV and in Movies

In this blog, Henry Holden, who is an Actor, Activist and Founder of the Performers with Disabilities for the Screen Actors Guild, raises the issue: there are nearly 57 million people with disabilities in the U.S. (figures may have changed), but when it comes to presenting this on mass media, where are we? He shows that TV and movies curtail people from accepting individuals with disabilities from being an integral part of everyday society. He believes that most of the time, when disability is portrayed through the media, it is only featured on one or two episodes because the theme of that show or the plot of the movie is related to a disability issue. He believes that more should be done in order to depict disability more realistically and show how it is integrated into everyday society.


Blog # 4: Oscar Films that Realistically Depict Life for the Disabled

This blog lists twelve films that accurately depict life for an individual with disabilities. Some include The King’s Speech, Babel, and A Beautiful Mind. Toni Bernhard explores how the movie accurately illustrates the struggles and the feelings an individual will experience with a disability in a realistic way.

Society is making small strides by increasing the depictions of disability in film and television. We need to keep making progress to use the media as a more realistic reflection of society.


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