What if they DIDN’T have a disability?

By Connie Horn

I’ve recently read several news articles about people with disabilities, and it made me question the motivations of media coverage and how people with disabilities are portrayed.

Headlines that caught my eye were… 

http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/10/05/teen-with-cerebral-palsy-scores-winning-touchdown-for-team/

As well as this one…

http://www.wcsh6.com/news/watercooler/article/218772/108/Georgia-high-school-makes-Down-Syndrome-teen-homecoming-king

These stories make me wonder if the person in these stories didn’t have a disability, would they even make the news? How often do you read about a person without a disability making prom court or getting a touchdown? Yes, you might read about it in your local newspaper, but would it make national news? If the person didn’t have a disability, would these stories even be stories?

Another headline that caught my eye was…

 

http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/Police-Find-Trombone-Stolen-From-Boy-With-Down-Syndrome–174108601.html

My husband recently had his laptop stolen. I know we didn’t get this type of media coverage to find the person who stole it.

The media – television, radio, newspapers and the Internet – play an important role in influencing public opinion and attitudes. The choice of words, messages and images they use can determine perception and attitudes of others. It can also define what does or does not matter to individuals and the world around them.

How people with disabilities are portrayed and how frequently they appear in the media has an enormous impact on how they are regarded in society.

It seems to me when people with disabilities appear in the media, they are often stigmatized or stereotyped. They appear as either objects of pity or as someone with super heroic accomplishments and endurance. Often the disability itself is used as a hook by writers to draw audiences to the story.

Media coverage frequently focuses on heartwarming inspirational stories about people with disabilities that patronize and underestimate individual capabilities.

It is true to say that the media is an extremely important part of our everyday life, and as an industry has been critical in the dissemination of information to the mass population. But should media be focusing on heartwarming inspirational and heroic stories about people that wouldn’t make the news if the person didn’t have a disability?

I would much rather like to see the media focus more attention on tough issues that affect the person’s quality of life, such as accessible transportation, affordable health care, housing, and employment opportunities.

What do you think?

3 Responses

  1. I am so in your court that you should feel me next to you. My Staff and I spend a lot of time taking the people we serve out in the community not just lto shop, go to the movies, go out to eat or out to festivals where people come up to the peolpe we serve and pat them on the head and say “how cute.”

    We take them to malls, to businesses, to schools, to convalescent hospitals, to park and rec. facilities, to senior centers, and many other places to see all of the ifferent kinds of work that are done in these places and see if they like the work or could do the work. If they have to learn some things to do the job they liked we make it a new goal for them and help thtem learn whar they need to learn and then help them apply for the job.

    I have one person I serve who is retired after 35 years working for the County here. He worked a real job for very real pay. He is retired now and living on his pension. That pension is much bigger than what he would be getting if he were on SSI. I had another person I used to serve who worked for over 30 years at Lawrence Livermore Lab Fire Department. He too is living on his pension. Both of those people also had what I would call a very normal retirement party. THere were no articles in the paper, but there was real sentiment from their co-workers.

    We are very proud of the people we serve who continue to look for real employment. We are just as proud of those that we serve who are not looking for work. I am proud that I have a Staff who works hard to make sure that all of the people we serve are doing all that they can to be all that they can be as people, as employees, as participants in the community, and as people of Faith who believe that as children of God they are perfect as they are.

    THere is no need for anyone to be in the news. They just have to be themselves to the best of their ability.

  2. I couldn’t agree more … It’s high time society shifted from a “disability” model to a much more pragmatic “different ability” mindset. Easier said than done because humans come pre-wired to notice what’s different in their world; it’s how they survived being hunted by sabre-toothed tigers.

    In many ways, our thinking about persons who have a disability is stuck in the Stone Age. At best, they get patronized by those “inspirational” stories on the 6 o’clock news, everyone goes “awww, how sweet” and viewers return to regular programming.

    So, does that mean we shouldn’t hear those stories? Not at all. In fact, I’d like to see them as a regular feature. But, only if they tell the WHOLE story. Less focus on the awe-inspiring outcome, more on the process of achieving it. The challenges that had to be overcome… perhaps, even endured.

    Then, with a new mindset and a tear-jerking example of what’s possible, there needs to be a call to action. We’re further away from true inclusion than most people would like to believe… and viewers should know that.

    Perhaps if we can catch their attention, there’s a chance we can shame them into doing something to change the way we do society.

  3. Really good feedback from both of you on this topic. Thanks.

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