The media acts as a crucial source of information in any society and at the same time a pivotal definer of the way different functions is perceived or operates.
In the current world of vast technological advancement, there are different media including newspapers, TV, magazines, telephone, internet, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and so on. Apparently, the media does not only selectively inform members of the society about the current events but also plays a role in shaping them. Therefore, there exists a relationship between the media and social groups such as gender, race, disability, religion and economic status.
According to the UN’s Division for Social Policy and Development Disability (2018), around 1 billion people or 15% of the world’s population is living with disability. The media should be the one to advocate for championing the rights of persons living with disability by ensuring that they promote their equal access to employment, education, and health when compared to the other members of the society. Furthermore, the stories and images presented by the media about persons living with disability are seldom and they often stereotype them negatively which undermines their role and respect in the society as shall be discussed in this essay.
To begin with, the interest to cover how the media represents persons living with disability is due to the awareness that in most parts of the world, such people are disadvantaged when it comes to being afforded equal employment opportunities and general perception by the other members of the society. Undeniably, the media should be aware that even though it is hard to legislate change in attitude of the community, the legislation of behavioral change can successfully result in the change in attitude about the persons living with disability in the society. However, the change in attitude can only occur after increased awareness and contact.
Thus, sustainable communication between the media, the physically fit members of the society and the persons living with disability is needed. However, the disabled have always been represented using negative stereotypes by the media. Such negative stereotypes include being presented as pathetic or pitiable, as objects of violence of curiosity, laughable, being a burden to the other members of the society, and being unable to participate in the economic growth of the society. To make matters worse, Disability Planet U.
K (2018) asserts that the media directly contributes to the discrimination of the disabled since as of 2016, only 2.3% of them worked in different media stations. Equally important, the media discriminates them by reinforcing of impairment and using the medical model of disability, creation and the underpinning utilization of disabled stereotypes of the population, the use of language, image, and terminologies related to the disadvantaged. Apparently, anyone across the world can testify of one or multiple instances where the media has misrepresented the people living with disability which adversely affects their role and respect in the society (Disability Planet U.K.
2018). As drivers of change in the society, the media is responsible in ensuring that the rights of the disabled are respected as same as those of other members of the society; therefore, the choice of this target population was from the knowledge that the media has consistently failed in its role in promoting the creation of a united society. One of the ways in which the media represents persons living with disability is that of being helpless and victims. Apparently, this happens across all media platforms whether in TV shows, movies, newspapers, and social media networks like Facebook and Instagram.
They are often represented as very desperate individuals in need of charity or help. Most of the characters on movies and television shows who are disabled are shown as sick and in need of cure or help which creates a negative perception that such people cannot be of any help in the society. This is through production firms like Hollywood which sentimentalize persons with disability as individuals who cope with their situations but ‘live happily ever after’ after receiving some form of healing or love from a physically fit character.
As if that is not enough, the disabled is represented by the media through movies or clips that show the evilness of a villain by roughing up a blind or crippled person. For instance, the evil private Captain Hook of Peter Pan is the most classic and suitable example of the disabled villain characters in movies. However, in some rare occasions, the media represents persons living with disability as having abnormal beings like in movies like Voices which target the deaf, Ice Castles which target the blind and quadriplegics (Dahl 2013). Coupled together, mainstream media present the disabled as helpless individuals who require sympathy and help from the fit members of the society. Consequently, the perception of the disabled as being helpless has forced governments across the globe to legislate and enforce regulations requiring the respect of this population and granting of equal opportunities when it comes to employment and participation in social, economic, and political reforms of the society. However, this is yet to be achieved in countries like the United Kingdom since according to Olga (2017), the United Nations’ Committee for the rights of persons with disabilities rebuked the U.
K for lack of intervention in how PWDs are portrayed in the media which influences the attitude on the public. At the same time, the media tends to misuse the condition of persons living with disability by representing them as heroic or extraordinary individuals just because of their physical status. Apparently, the terminologies used by different media outlets like television and newspapers directly present this stereotype. Such stereotypes include “brave”, “inspirational”, and “courageous”. Unfortunately, such focus is only on the individual’s impairment instead of their achievement since most of them are as a result if mere accomplishments like graduating from school, playing a musical instrument, and many more. Even though media owners mean well for the persons with disability, their exaggerated language provides the impression that they deserve special attention and their accomplishments cannot be compared with that of the physically sound members of the society.
For instance, in the movie Daredevil, the blind character Matt Murdock who is also the main character is presented as having superior sense just because of his blindness, a factor that creates the perception that the disabled have superior powers as a natural compensation to overcome the challenges they face. In the same token, comic and cartoon captions are vital elements of discriminatory and prejudicial languages against the disabled. Apparently, words like ‘idiot’, ‘stupid moron’, and ‘crazy’ are quite often used in strips like Beetle Bailey (Dahl 2013). Unfortunately, this portrayal of the persons living with disability as being able to mitigate the challenges they face by having supernatural powers makes the society view them as capable members of the society to the extent that helping, say a crippled person cross a road will be a bother to many.
As if that is not enough, Kellner (2013) asserts that the actions by the media to selectively cover persons with disability creates the perception that they are heroes just by hype. Apparently, the media should rightfully present this target population as normal members of the society who deserve the best treatment due to their disadvantaged nature when compared to the other members of the society. In this context, the media only presents the lifestyles of persons with disabilities rather than showing them as part of the normal population.
For instance, according to Farnall and Smith (2016), asserts that in the contemporary marketing and advertising age, most of the advertisers do not think of PWDs as normal customers who can brush their teeth, drink beer, or even buy a car but rather tend to use beautiful and physically normal members of the society. Unfortunately, the media allows the use of advertisements equating the disabled with infantile conditions and childish behaviors while the healthy normal individuals represent prestige and status. As a result, the majority still view the disabled as people who are highly dependent and can only live on the mercy of the media and the physically normal individuals.
Apparently, it is such stereotyping to see the government of the U.K come up with initiatives like formation of British Council of Organizations for Disabled Persons and legislation barring the media from stereotyping PWDs (Farnall and Smith 2016). Different from that, the media represents persons living with disability by using the medical model of disability. In this context, the disabled individual’s inability to conduct his or her daily activities is as a result of their physical or even mental impairment. For instance, in the movie Christmas Carole, Bob Cratchit who is disabled is solely characterized by his condition and the producers show that they can life through the availability of medical interventions. Another example is in the way movie producers across the world use physical disability to present evil like the images of pirates who are often shown as having missing legs, hands, and eyes.
Most recently, the media uses the disabled by as people who are driven to fatal revenge and crime just because of their physical status. This is shown in the TV series Wild West where Doctor Loveless is presented as a villain who assumes revenge for any wrong done to him just because of his physical status (Dahl 2013). This is also evident in the popular TV series Game of Thrones where one of the main characters is a dwarf and constantly assumes revenge against individuals who oppose him (Dahl 2013).
He kills most of the characters in the film just because they despise him for being a dwarf. Television news broadcasters often present news of the disabled who perform mistakes like committing suicide and stealing just to help themselves out after giving up on the society’s discrimination on the basis of physical status. On the other hand, the media often presents persons living with disability as ‘victims’ in various instances in the news. According to an observation by Kellner (2013), most of the mainstream media news only focus on showing how they are mistreated by their family members or are denied equal access to rights like employment and treatment in public institutions like schools and hospitals.
This is the observation made by Olga (2017) as well in the U.K. Apparently, such news should put attention on showing that the people living with disability are capable of achieving same magnitude of milestones just like their physically and mentally fit counterparts.
This is strongly supported by Farnall and Smith’s (2016) argument who asserts that the media only cover persons living with disability to show those who succeed in overcoming the various challenges presented by disability rather than presenting the lives of those living with disability. Further, the media presents disability as a problem which an individual should overcome before becoming ‘normal’. In the same token, focusing on the achievement of only some members with disability presents the notion that it is possible to overcome disability by working extra hard which is an inaccurate picture of this population. Evidently, this stereotype is also shown in video games where in the few instances that individuals with disabilities are featured, they have to work extra harder in order to accomplish the set targets. Examples of such games include Mortal Kombat and Soulcalibur (Farnall and Smith’s 2016).
Even though, over the past few years, Haller, Dorries, and Rahn (2006) asserts that advocates for persons with disability have come out strongly to fight for the rights of the population, a lot is yet to be achieved when it comes to preserving their rights. As a result, some of the movies and TV shows realistically depict disabled individuals as normal human beings and avoid using the current stereotypes in the society and the mainstream media as well. For instance, in the 2005 TV show Blind Justice, a policeman who had been blinded is shown as a hero and an achiever not because of his disability but the where he manages to lead a perfect life defying all the odds presented by the society against the disabled (Kellner 2013). At the same time, the movie The Miracle Worker focuses on a deaf and blind activist Helen Keller who is used to give the audience perfect image of how the disabled triumph the challenges that they endure while living in the society. Therefore, it is shown that while inaccurate and fictional media portrayals which is shown by the creation of misleading notions of people living with disability is still evident in the contemporary society, reality and fashion shows can help in debunking these stereotypes and myths. Nevertheless, the news reports can also aid in influence the way individuals with disability are perceived by ensuring that they focus on the individual and their actions rather than focusing on their impaired nature. In the same token, it would be great if the media consider changing phrases when speaking about persons with disability since it can encourage the members of the society coexist peacefully and the disabled are not disadvantaged in any way. Even though some of the stereotypes are essential in ensuring that governments and legislative bodies see to it that the disabled are awarded better living conditions, there is need for the government to ensure that the media change the way they view the disabled because they are the role models to the others of the society and that allows them to have a great potential of helping change the social thoughts of the people with disability.
In conclusion, the media is a crucial instrument for raising awareness and countering misinformation and stigma about the people living with disability in the society. In other words, the media is a powerful force to overseeing the change of societal misconceptions and presenting them as individuals who are just a section of the human diversity and are capable of making equal accomplishments like the rest. Unfortunately, the majority of the media stereotypes the physically and mentally disabled persons as needy and in need of help, villains or heroic. Apparently, these stereotypes have serious impacts on the people with disability as they are treated as less fortunate members and marginalized group of the society which makes them miss a vast array of opportunities and respect by other individuals.
As a result, there is a result to increase the understanding and awareness of the current disability issues especially by the media who can contribute in ensuring that there is a successful and effective integration of individuals with disability in the economic, social, and political aspects of life. In fact, this is in accordance with legislations like the Convention on the Rights of Persons with disabilities, an umbrella of the United Nations which helps ensure that all nations raise awareness and at the same time combat stereotypes that are related to the disabled. A perfect way of accomplishing this would be the encouragement of media platforms to present these individuals in a way that is consistent and shows utmost respect for the rights of all humans.