4211EDSTUD Introducing Special and Inclusive Needs
Consider key contemporary cultural representations of disability and special educational needs in the media (e.g. television, films, and newspapers) and discuss what these portrayals potentially reveal about societal attitudes towards disability and disabled people.
It has been reinforced over recent years that representations of disabled individuals in the media rationalises the treatment of disabled individuals as defective (Barnes and Mercer, 2010). This essay will examine contemporary cultural representations of disability and special educational needs in relevance with today’s society within the media, as media plays a crucial role in influencing people’s perceptions towards individuals with disability. It is important to acknowledge the corresponding link between how those with disabilities are portrayed in the media and societal attitudes if we want to gain further understanding on how to improve attitudes.
Attitudes are made up of beliefs and feelings along with values and dispositions that distinguish the way in which we think or feel about people and situations. Evidence shows that individuals with a disability are more likely to face attitudes than those who do not have disability. Repercussions of these attitudes mean that disabled individuals face barriers to education, leisure, transport, social contact, accessibility in public as well as accessing public services (Aiden and McCarthy, 2014).
Despite important changes to legislation within the past two decades, seeking changes to tackle discrimination against disabled individuals negative attitudes continue to exist. In 2014 research carried out by Opinium found that 38% of people that they surveyed see disabled individuals less productive in comparison to non-disabled individuals. Opinium also found that 76% of the people surveyed see disabled individuals as in need of care and 13% seen disabled individuals as getting in the way either most of the time or some of the time (Aiden and McCarthy, 2014).
The role of the medical profession within society has significantly contributed to creating society perceptions about disability, with their abilities to ‘heal’ or ‘cure’ ‘illnesses.’ The medical profession working from a biological viewpoint has led to disability being thought of as merely a biological product (Brittain, 2004). As a result of this outlook disabled individuals find it difficult to be seen as anything except a passive social actor who is unable to make decisions or lacks the capacity to make decisions about how they live their lives (Yuill, Crinson and Duncan, 2010).
Multiple studies have identified the obvious lack of interest from the media. This is evident in the coverage of the Olympics. This is not the case for the media coverage surrounding the Paralympics with coverage plummeting 20-200 times lower than the Olympics. The consistent pattern of marginalising disabled individuals powerfully implies that dialogue of disability sport do not easily articulate to the dialogue of elite sport. The influence of the automatic association of able-bodied individuals and sport performance of an elite standard is so strong that Paralympian’s find it extremely difficult to be portrayed in the same way as an ‘able- bodied’ athlete. Consequently, Paralympian’s struggle to be seen as anything other than an athletic paradox (Bruce,2014).
The media has been criticized for emphasising medicalised and stereotypical understandings of disability. This is often apparent in language used in the media when talking about athletes’ with disabilities being referred to as ‘super-crips’ that have overcome their disability and triumphed over adversity. Medicalised stereotypes are continuously reinforced when it comes to events like the Paralympics when newspapers describe athletes are courageous individuals that have overcome their disability in order to achieve ‘normal.’ These phrases contribute to the unrealistic ideas regarding what is possible for those with disabilities and what they could potentially do and achieve ‘if only they tried harder’, like those competing in the Paralympics. Although Paralympian’s make up some of the best athletic groups in world there is a substantial drop in allocated coverage regarding media coverage. The allocated number of journalists for the Paralympic games 2004 in Athens was 3,000 and in London was 2,500. Although these numbers are increasing when it comes to the Paralympics it fails to meet the same allocated coverage of the Olympics, which had 20,000 allocated journalists (Bruce, 2014).
A study analysing trends in the representation in television programmes featuring disabled individuals shows a consistent trend from 1993 to 2005. Disabled people were largely only given minor over major roles in programmes. For most of the characters their impairment was regarded as relevant and central rather than accidental, in the representation of individuals with disabilities. The obvious lack of portrayal and representation of disability is apparent. Furthermore, just over 1% of all non-news television programmes featured a disabled individual and 10% including a participant with a disability in a lower profile way (Barnes and Mercer, 2010). In 2009 when Glee was released advocates of disability disapproved at the shows decision to cast an able bodied actor to play a character in a wheelchair over an actor that was a wheelchair user. More recently, a Hollywood film was criticized for casting an able bodied man to play the role of a man paralysed and in a wheelchair (Bulter, 2016).
Asocial perceptions and attitudes towards disabled are still current concerning their romantic relationships. In 1991 Morris carried out a study on non-disabled people and recorded the predijuices and stereotypes they had towards those with a disability. He found that people assumed that disabled individuals want to feel ‘whole’ and ‘normal’ and if they do not have a partner it is because no one wants to be with them in a romantic way. He also found a common theme in non-disabled individuals linking relationship breakdowns to the person’s disability (Vertoont, 2017).
The reality television show ‘The Undateables’ documents individuals with disabilities trying to find love with the help of a special dating agency. The show features people with physical, mental, sensory and an array of other impairments. The series has high ratings and is broadcasted in multiple countries. Despite the show’s high ratings there has been back lash and debate relating to the representation of disabilities. In contrast to this the show has also been praised in broadcasting the element of individuals with disabilities finding love, as this is something that has been neglected and over looked in the past despite people with disabilities expressing that they find intimate relationships and sex on of their concerns in regards to daily life. This neglect on the issue can be related back to the medical model with the repressive traditions of individualising disability within the medical model (Vertoont, 2017). However, the fact that the social model emphasises on social and structural inequalities, personal issues such as sex and relationships go disregarded (Vertoont, 2017). This is due to the fact that the social model of disability believes that structural features of society are what disable people not their impairment. The model also believes that society’s barriers restrict the individual not their condition (Miskovic and Gabel, 2012).The representation of disability in advertising also contributes in reinforcing negative imagery, with a bias of individuals with a disability being pathetic and pitiful. The exploitation by charities, carried out in a cynical manner, has generated resentment amongst disabled individuals. Charity organisations use words such as ‘courageous’ to describe those with a disability and phrases like ‘focus on the ability not the disability’ (Waltz,2012).
In America, an advertisement by the charity Autism Speaks received disapproval as it showed the lives of families with a child that has autism in a horror-film like way. The charity was confronted by autistic self-advocates and their allies as it did not display an accurate representation of autism or how those with autistic family members cope. These portrayals have consequences for individuals with autism. Having children on advertisements is a tactical way to raise money for the charity, however it limits autism to children. This has been a factor that has contributed to people’s belief that autism is a disability that is only a child hood disability, resulting in a lack of services for adults with autism. It is important to recognise that this is American based research however, this is also a common theme in the United Kingdom.
In 2009 a multi-media campaign named ‘Dan’s Story’ came under criticism for its rendition of autism. The television advertisement includes hand-drawn frames about the characteristics of Dan’s condition. The advertisement promoted the National Children’s Home and how it was ‘thanks to them’ that they could ‘correct’ Dan’s behaviour and ‘make him a better person.’ There was no motive to change viewers’ perceptions of autism, instead the advertisement focused on promoting the National Children’s Home. The campaign was highly arraigned by individuals’ with autism and their allies for its branding campaign (Waltz, 2012).
To conclude, there is a clear link between how disability is portrayed in different media plat forms and social attitudes towards disability. These attitudes often result in an array of barriers for disabled individuals. The medical model has also created issues and shifted the blame from society onto the person with a disability, leading to direct blame being placed on the individual. Furthermore, the medical model plays a substantial role in the in language that used when describing disability and is still used to segregate individuals within society. How disability is portrayed in the media often creates unrealistic expectations for disabled people, for example the Paralympics. Despite having characters in television and film it is common for that character to be played by a non-disabled actor, resulting in fewer disabled role models. Often disabled individuals do not have a say in how disability is portrayed in media, this is evident in charity campaigns and what they believe it is like living with a specific disability. Although there has been progress in how disabled individuals are treated and perceived there is still a long way to go.
Reference List (Essay)
Barnes, C. and Mercer, G. (2010). Exploring Disability. 2nd ed. Oxford: Polity Press.
Bruce, T. (2014). Us and them: the influence of discourses of nationalism on media coverage of the Paralympics. Disability ; Society, 29(9).
Bulter, B. (2016). Almost all disabled TV characters are played by able-bodied actors. Can we fix that?. online The Washington Post. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2016/07/16/almost-all-disabled-tv-characters-are-played-by-able-bodied-actors-can-we-fix-that/?noredirect=on;utm_term=.b26678efd901 Accessed 28 Oct. 2018.
Vertoont, S. (2017). Would you date ‘the undateables’? An analysis of the mediated public debate on the reality television show ‘The Undateables’. Sexualities, 21(5-6).
Waltz, M. (2012). Images and narratives of autism within charity discourses. Disability ; Society, 27(2).
Aiden, H. and McCarthy, A. (2014) Current Attitudes toward Disabled People. Scope online. Available at: http://www.scope.org.uk/Scope/media/Images/Publication%20Directory/Current-attitudes-towards-disabled-people.pdf?ext=.pdf .
Brittain, I. (2004). Perceptions of disability and their impact upon involvement in sport for people with disabilities at all levels. 4th ed. ebook Sage Publications. Available at: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0193723504268729 Accessed 2 Nov. 2018.
uill, C., Crinson, I. and Duncan, E. (2010). Key concepts in health studies. London: Sage Publications.
Miskovic, M. and Gabel, S. (2012). When numbers don’t add up and words can’t explain: Challenges in defining disability in higher education. International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches, 6(3).