Category Archives: Media

The power of social media: #NotMyDisability

NotMyDisabilityFor anyone who has a disability or who has a close relationship with someone with a disability, it often becomes clear how differently even the same diagnosis can present in different individuals. Take for example the Autism Spectrum. The name itself lends to the understanding that there is a vast spectrum of differences among individuals who possess an Autism Spectrum diagnosis.

Some individuals with an autism spectrum diagnosis are nonverbal while others have limited verbal skills and yet others are incredibly verbose. Some individuals with an autism spectrum diagnosis have mild sensory processing issues which can be controlled with therapy while for others, their sensory processing issues can be debilitating and life impacting.

So when those of us with intimate knowledge and experience of a specific disability see that particular disability portrayed in the media, it becomes painfully obvious how narrowly that representation is constructed as we compare those representations to our personal, real life experience with that particular disability.

Given our ability to identify the lack of nuance of specific disabilities in media, imagine how that narrow construction of a particular disability affects the perception of individuals who have little to no personal experience with that type of disability. Likely they will assume the construction is accurate and begin to form perception, assumptions, and stereotypes about that disability based on the images and storylines they view in the media.

Fortunately, I believe the power of social media affords individuals with disabilities and their friends and family the ability to correct these misleading, narrow constructions of various disabilities in the media and paint an accurate, whole picture of how different disabilities affect different individuals.

From now on, when we see images of disability in the media, let’s make a concerted effort to publicly challenge and correct those constructions. Use the hashtag #NotMyDisability to share how a portrayal of a disability in the media might be narrowly constructed and provide personal insight into that disability across social media.

I’ll get us started:

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Next time you see an inaccurate construction of a person with disability in any kind of media, tweet it out and push back against the stereotypes and perceptions about disability that are carelessly created in advertising, television, movies, and more using the hashtag #NotMyDisability.

Narrow Construction of Disability in Media

ConstructionMuch like other underserved and often underrepresented populations, all forms of media continue to narrowly construct people with disabilities. Whether referring to news media, or characters in movies, on Broadway, or primetime television, each provides the general population a limited glimpse into the lives of people with disabilities. On the small screen, GLAAD’s Where Are We on TV Report 2014 indicates only 1.4% of regular, primetime character in scripted series on broadcast networks will be depicted as people with disabilities despite the fact that nearly 20% of Americans have a disability. Unfortunately, even those few characters generally fall into one of a limited number of categories of disability typically including characters with Down Syndrome, hearing impairment, people using wheelchairs, or those with Autism Spectrum Disorders. In advertising, the new trend is featuring models with disabilities. Unfortunately, like network television, the few models currently being featured are people with Down Syndrome, or those with prosthetic limbs, and who are rarely signed to major modeling agencies, but instead smaller agencies who specialize in representing people with disabilities and modeling contracts for lesser-known brands.

Even when people with disabilities receive the opportunity to be represented in various scripted media, media creators are making decisions to cast actors and actresses who are not actually disabled. Take for example the recent backlash on Broadway when a non-autistic actor was chosen to play the lead in the play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Similar situations have been seen in the movies and on television. Arty Abrams, the character who uses a wheelchair on Fox’s Glee, is played by the non-disabled actor Kevin McHale. Non-disabled actor Eddie Redmayne was selected to portray Stephen Hawking in Theory of Everything. Max Braverman, a teen with Aspergers Syndrome on Parenthood, was played by neutrotypical actor Max Burkholder. While it is unfortunate that actors and actresses with disabilities are missing vital opportunities for employment, also discouraging is the often misinterpreted representation of various aspects of disability which occur when characters are not disabled. Whether it is the media created fallacy that all autistic people are monotone and possess little in the way of personality, or that blind people touch the face of others to identify another person, these misconceptions perpetrated by narrow constructions in media affect the way the general public receives, interacts with, and includes people with disabilities. It is necessary to diversity not only the type of characters portrayed in various scripted media, but the types of actors playing these roles to ensure that people with disabilities are represented accurately and widely across all media.

Entitlement Reform | Where are Disabilities?

WelfareA subject that is often widely debated in political news media is the recurrent issue of the US budget and subsequent budget cuts. In recent years, public assistance programs have continuously found themselves on the chopping block, despite exorbitant tax breaks offered to multi-billion dollar corporations. The problem with media coverage of welfare reform is less about what they are saying and more about what they are not saying. Discussions about welfare are often diluted to a two-dimensional problem: welfare queens and the working poor. What news media continually fails to cover is the 73% of entitlement benefits which are allotted to two of our most vulnerable populations: the elderly and people with disabilities. Even in articles which attempt to cover the ill effects of anti-poverty reform in the US seem to miss the mark in truly underscoring the populations which these programs serve. In this article from The Atlantic, there is only one mention of disability, and it is only a referral to the various types of payments the poorest American’s receive. Even this article from Salon which denounces the media created stereotype of the “welfare queen,” seems to simply repeat the stereotype (in case anyone missed the coverage before, they surely have it in their head now), and then fails to inform the reader about exactly who is receiving benefits and why these programs are in integral part of survival of people with disabilities and other financially vulnerable populations. This article from NBC News appears to criticize an NPR report on the number of non-disabled people receiving Social Security disability. Yet like the Salon article, not only does it simply restates the stereotype created by the NPR report without providing any context about Social Security Disability, it does not refute the information with any statistical evidence regarding the needs of the disability community and how urgent this coverage is for so many Americans.

Fortunately, there is some glimmer of hope on the horizon. The Daytona Beach News-Journal recently feature two articles outlining the effects of cuts to people with disabilities. The article, though fairly brief, attempts to provide context to the wide net of needs of the disability community, and how cuts can affect not only necessary programs like SNAP, but also programs which provide a better, more inclusive quality of life for people with disabilities. Debates in the news media about entitlement programs are not where this problem ends. The media consistently fails to cover the effects of budget cuts in education, health services, housing programs, legal services, technology, transportation, and more. It is time for news media to cover issues of disability with context, statistics, and accurate representations of the individuals most affected by these issues.

Grading the Media | BBC and Disabilities

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A recent article on the BBC titled, “Children with learning disabilities ‘more vulnerable to abuse’” attempted to bring much need attention to a serious issue facing the disability community. While the publicity is certainly welcomed, the BBC’s coverage of the issue is confusing at best.

Abuse of individuals with disabilities is a long standing and well documented issue that has plagued schoolslong term care facilities, and many other community resources which should be educating and protecting this vulnerable population. Unfortunately, the BBC article failed to provide any background or context to the issue of abuse in the disability community for this piece.

The BBC article begins its coverage of this important issue with a broken link referencing a “report” conducted by “a coalition of children’s charities.” A few paragraphs later, the article states, “The report was commissioned by Comic Relief, and was produced by Barnardo’s, the Children’s Society, the British Institute of Learning Disabilities, Paradigm Research and Coventry University.” Unfortunately, not a single link is used allowing readers further investigate the organizations behind the report, a vital process to help savvy readers verify content they find online.

After lazily summarizing the origination of the report, the BBC fails to provide any statistical or other data from the report anywhere in the article. Instead, the article provides what appears to be a disjointed series of quotes pulled directly from the report which provide little insight or depth to the issue at hand.

The article proceeds to include quotes from what appears to be an interview with one case study participant they call “Jane.” Jane, now 19 years old, describes through a series of quotes an online encounter she had with an older man when she was just 14 years old. While the BBC should be commended for including people with disabilities in their article, her account of being manipulated on social media sounds like one of a million we have heard before: young, naive girl falls prey to older man asking for private pictures online.

The use of this example with no context articulating how this situation differs from those encountered by neurotypical teens would leave most readers wondering how this is an issue specific to disability. The BBChad an opportunity to provide in-depth reporting and context on the issue of learning disabilities, the challenges and benefits of children with disabilities participating in an online platform, and how all of these affect children with disabilities use of social media. Unfortunately, this article failed to provide any substantive information about any disability, and certainly did not offer any insight to its readers about how this is an issue specific to the disability community.

The article closed the story with more quotes, little data, and no links to any further reading or resources. The first sentence of the final section of the article subtitled, “Stay safe,” begins, “Emilie Smeaton, research director at Paradigm, said there was a perception children with learning disabilities did not have the same sexual needs and desires as others.” The BBC once again began to dip their toe into the water of another hot topic in the disability community—sexuality— yet decidedly pulled back, again providing no context, background, links, or any other substantive information to back up this statement. It is yet another missed opportunity by the BBC.

Finally, the issue of neglect and abuse in the disability community is widespread. Resources and legislation currently exist which provide people with disabilities and their support systems ways to preventreport, and learn about issues of abuse against this community. This article provided an excellent opportunity to provide additional resources and direction to those in the disability community looking for resources as well as those outside of the disability community who would like to be better informed or know how to go about identifying and reporting abuse—an opportunity wasted by the BBC.

Grade: D 

Not only did the author fail to provide background and context to the issue, readers would be unable to easily locate information about the topic because only one link was used in the entire article, which was broken. The author of this article seemed to add little commentary or explanation to the report findings within the article, failing to cite any specific data while overusing generalized findings from the research in the form of a series of disjointed, direct quotes. While the author did appropriately include input from a person within the disability community, only one person was quoted, which is not enough to adequately represent the diverse array of experiences surrounding the sexual abuse of children with disabilities. All in all, I can appreciate the BBC’s attempt to shed light on an often underreported topic—the only reason this article was not downgraded to an “F”—however, the BBC repeatedly missed an opportunity to allow its readers to experience a deeper understanding of the issues at hand.