Media representation of disability
Nice to cyber meet you! I’m new to the Scope community, I’ve been campaigning with Scope for about 2 years now and was on the Scope for Change programme. As a disabled person, one of the biggest issues I find is the lack of representation of disabled people in the media, this is something I’m really interesting to working towards changing.
Recently I spoke at the British Film Institute about my thoughts around disability representation in the media, and last night I spoke at Rufus Leonard in London – they are independent creative agency. One of their staff members has put together a group called Think Designable, which is a new steering group of advertising / brand / marketing experts wanting to change the representation of disability in the media, particularly advertising and brands. It was the first meeting, so was a chance for the group to get to new each other. I was invited along to give my views as a young disabled person of how I felt I was represented growing up, and how powerful the media is in influencing attitudes to and the perception of disability.
I started by talking about the social/ medical model of disability, and how the social model has really changed things for me. I talked about how I felt as a young disabled child that there was nobody out there in the media who was disabled that I could see, and how I do see more disabled people in the media today, but that disabled people are (in my opinion) really under-represented. Considering 1 in 5 people in the UK are disabled, I don’t think our media represents disability to reflect the society we live in. When talking about disabled people on screen, I mentioned how important it is to have disabled actors playing disabled characters, and made reference to the idea of “cripping up”. In terms of TV shows, I made reference to disabled actors/ actresses in Eastenders and Coronation Street (guilty pleasures of mine!) and the types of storylines these characters have, but I emphasised how a disabled character shouldn’t just be put into a show to tick a box, and that them being disabled shouldn’t be the whole of their story. Just in the same way that me being disabled isn’t all of my life and my story.
I said how I felt there were not a lot of disabled celebrities/ spokespeople out there bringing important issues to light. As a child I didn’t know of any disabled celebrities, and now in my early 20’s, I can’t say that I feel this has changed. I feel any celebrity who is disabled is pigeon-holed as “you must be a disability spokesperson” as there’s nobody out there to do it! I’ve been to a few talks with RJ Mitte and he said this that he’s called upon to speak for disabled people because there is a lack of disabled celebrities. Just as we have celebrities speaking about really important issues (say Emma Watson speaking about feminism) I never felt there was a disabled celebrity/ role model I could look up to.
I was really pleased to be asked to be involved in this event, and that Think Designable are taking steps to influence and change disability representation in the media, advertising and brands, and using the insight and opinions that disabled people have about this. I’d love to get your thoughts on this as it’s a real passion of mine.
What do you think of the representation of disability in the media? Are there any brands doing things well? Any good media campaigns you’ve seen?