Tag Archives: Parenthood

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.