Epilepsy Newfoundland and Labrador was invited to a discussion about persons with disabilities and the media by the Coalition for Persons with disabilities (COD).
COD is focused on creating a positive image of disability and believes how society views persons with disability has a direct impact on those individuals.
How are persons with disabilities viewed through the media?
It seems that most individuals are usually given a story of sympathy or pity. They are usually a victim in the storyline and are more vulnerable and COD would like to see persons with disabilities more accurately represented. News stories focus on a person’s disability, when it is irrelevant to the story and misinformation is often portrayed in the media about disabilities.
For example, a lot of television medical series do not treat patients having a seizure properly. In fact, in an episode of House, a doctor put a spoon in a patient’s mouth of a person who was having a seizure (which you never ever do, by the way).
When writing a fictionalized story or series, you should ask yourself, is this disability being used as a victimizing piece or is it a part of this character’s everyday life?
A possible example of this portrayal is House from House. He has a cane, he has a physically disability but it’s not relevant to the story at hand, so it plays a small part. At the end of the day, House may cringe in pain, he also has a pain killer addiction but the plot of the story revolves around his career, his unique ability to cure rare ailments and his blunt and honest demeanour. Every person has abilities that override their disability, and all persons should be defined by who they are. House’s most dominant focus, is definitely his medical abilities, rather than his disability.
In the world of non-fiction and journalism, if reporting a story about a person with a disability, you have to ask yourself, is their disability relevant to the story?
For example, if a person who happens to be hard of hearing achieved great success, won a gold medal in the Olympics or was the youngest architect to built a sky scraper, is their disability relevant to the purpose of the story? If their house was broken into while they visited Hawaii, should the fact that they are hard of hearing even be mentioned?
These are questions writers and reporters should be asking themselves before they make the focus about a person’s disability, rather than the story at hand.
How often are persons with disabilities properly represented in the media? What is the hesitation to have characters in shows with different disabilities?
How do we stop sensationalizing a story and really focus on the character or storyline?
How do you feel about how persons with disabilities are portrayed in the media? Please comment in the section below.