Disability in Literature
13 April 2021
Major Project Art Collage of Disability Depiction in the Media
Disability is a key part of society as it makes up 15% of the population according to the World Health Association, yet mass media often has a skewed perception that is pushed onto viewers. Incorrect stigmatization, no matter how well intended, forms harmful stereotypes in societal norms that affect people with disabilities. In my piece, I focused on examples of real media taken directly from newspapers and magazines which exhibit contribution to a warped viewpoint including those we’ve spoken about in class such as infantilization and savior complexes.
Media has a substantial influence on sociological and societal norms which are developed by continuous acceptance and production of certain views for what is considered ‘normal.’ Already there is a lack of representation of disability in each source that we take in. Seen on the top middle area in my collage, The Ruderman White Paper is portrayed which refers to the study that shows 95% of characters with a disability are played by non-disabled actors. This creates yet another division for a person with a disability, as even the representation in television is somewhat of a lie as well . To the right of that photo is a scene from American Horror Story which is one of my favorite, more accurate depictions of a character with a disability. The character Nan is played by actress Jamie Brewer, who has Down Syndrome. Instead of using Brewer’s Down Syndrome as a character trait, American Horror Story incorporates her as a main character, living the same way as the other girls in the house. The subtitles show a scene in which one of the girls asks Nan if she’s a virgin, and she says “Hell no. I’m not a virgin. I get it on all the time and guys find me hot” (“The Replacements” 12:26). In this scene, the rest of the girls talk about their sexual interests, but Nan’s claims are never second guessed or disputed by the others, but rather accepted. This scene connects to the class reading from the Introduction of Sex and Disability, where normalization of sexual desire and acts often exclude people with disabilities.
Another seemingly small but incredibly impactful is the diction used when referring to disabilities in the media. Highlighted in my piece are article titles such as ‘How to handle grandma with cancer’ and ‘Texas HS football player gives the cutest promposal to his special needs friend.’ Headlines and wording like these contribute to the infantilization of people with disabilities, and takes away agency as their own person. These representations also idolize the caregiver for their job, which instills the mindset of disability as an issue or a nuisance to be cared for. In the reading Coming out Mad, Coming Out Disabled, author Elizabeth Brewer highlights the negative connotations associated with disability and how ever then society still has an expectation for those with a disability to come out. The concept of coming out furthermore creates alienation for people with disabilities and other viewpoints are easily unconsciously changed.
Ableism is exhibited in a variety of ways throughout society, some of which are not always direct or visible. In an attempt for allies or supporters of the disabled community to make disability more normalized, there is also the risk of over-encouragement. Statements seen in the collage graphic titled Spectators exhibits a man in a wheelchair completing his race, as the crowd holds up a sign saying “handicapable” and the audience remarks on his ‘bravery.’ The Teen Vogue piece shows a model in a wheelchair for their Disability Awareness Special. Referring back to the promposal article displayed, the football player praising was broadcasted nationally, for a simple high school dance. Examples like these are controversial in the disabled community and although the intentions may be positive, the actual execution contributes to even more segregation of disabled people in society. It creates the concept of ‘inspiration porn’, which is defined by Wikipedia as “the portrayal of people with disabilities as inspirational solely or in part on the basis of their disability” (Wikipedia).
In my collage piece I demonstrated a handful of the vast examples in the media that either misrepresent disability as a whole or aid in the formation of harmful prejudice and accepting generalized views. It creates an environment in which disability is seen as an issue or a lack of ways of life, where instead it needs to be more accepted and easily accommodated. Media is only one of the many impactful variables that create society’s conforming definition of disability onto people who have a disability. As inspirational author and advocate Robert M. Hansel states, “There is no greater disability in society, than the inability to see a person as more.” (Quotefancy.com)
“I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.”
Eliana C. Black
“Inspiration Porn.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Apr. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inspiration_porn.
“Robert M. Hensel Quotes.” Quotefancy, quotefancy.com/robert-m-hensel-quotes.
Woodburn, Danny, and Kristina Copic. “Employment of Actors with Disabilities in Television.” Ruderman Family Foundation, 3 Oct. 2017, rudermanfoundation.org/white_papers/employment-of-actors-with-disabilities-in-television/.
“World Report on Disability.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 14 Dec. 2011, www.who.int/teams/noncommunicable-diseases/sensory-functions-disability-and-rehabilitation/world-report-on-disability.
“The Replacements.” American Horror Story, created by Ryan Murphy, season 3: Coven, episode 3, FX Networks LLC, 2013.