For 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:
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.