Media Portrayals of Persons with Disabilites: Solutions

Media producers have recognized that they must make efforts to better represent persons with disabilities.

For instance, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation provides a guide for producers to use in portraying persons with disabilities on-screen. It consists of three questions:

  • Does the portrayal patronise the disabled person?
  • Does the portrayal victimise the disabled person?
  • Does the portrayal demonise the disabled person?

The Canadian Association of Broadcasters has added material on portrayal of disabilities to its Equitable Portrayal Code. As a result of its report the CAB has pledged to “address issues identified in the research relating to the portrayal of persons with disabilities in television programming.”

Media and Disability has these suggestions:

  • Consider disabled characters in scenarios that might be commonplace for a non-disabled person.
  • Consider disabled characters as rounded individuals, with good and bad qualities. Showing a disabled person as being mean, or nasty might be a challenge, but how many non-disabled people are “nice” all the time?
      

There is evidence that portrayals of persons with disabilities is improving. For instance, the character of Doctor Gregory House on House, M.D. could have been created with Media and Disability’s second suggestion in mind (though he – like most characters with disabilities, even other non-stereotyped ones such as Stevie on Malcolm in the Middle – is portrayed by a non-disabled actor). Similarly, Walter Junior on Breaking Bad and Doctor Fife on Private Practice – both played by actors with disabilities – are well-rounded characters whose disabilities are an integral part of who they are but who are not defined by it.

I AM PWD, a joint venture of Actors’ Equity Association, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, is an organization which advocates for employment of persons with disabilities in the media industry and also provides links to resources for persons with disabilities who hope to work in the industry. A Canadian organization that is working towards increasing the presence of persons with disabilities is Lights, Camera, Access! Its founder, Leesa Levinson, describes herself as “an ambassador for talent with disabilities” (Levinson herself has multiple sclerosis).

Consider disabled characters as rounded individuals, with good and bad qualities. Showing a disabled person as being mean, or nasty might be a challenge, but how many non-disabled people are “nice” all the time?

Diversity in Media Toolbox

The Diversity and Media Toolbox is a comprehensive suite of resources that explores issues relating to stereotyping, bias and hate in mainstream media and on the Internet. The program includes professional development tutorials, lesson plans, interactive student modules and background articles.

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