On disability representation, we still have a long way to go
The media plays a significant role in shaping our understanding of disability
I’m out in public, trying to take public transportation. There aren’t any accessible stations nearby, so I decide to brave the stairs with my cane. As time goes by, my legs begin to ache, my knees start to twist, and my ankles feel like they’re giving out. By the time I’ve gotten down the first flight of stairs, my body is shaking.
Not only is it frustrating that I seemingly have to beg for accessible stations, but the discomfort only amplifies as people stop and stare. The glances linger, and a look of pity crosses their faces. As much as I want to ignore them, it’s impossible.
But I don’t necessarily blame them for their discomfort. In fact, I actually blame the media.
Let’s try a quick exercise. How many people with disabilities do you know off the top of your head? In the show you’re currently watching, how many people have a chronic illness? How many disabled people starred in the last movie you watched? What about the last book you read? How many ads have you seen lately that featured someone with a disability? When was the last time an illness was portrayed in the media without it being romanticized?
There are a few exceptions, of course, but for the most part, we don’t talk about it! I don’t see many clothing ads with people in wheelchairs. I don’t see movies where someone has a cane. There are so many discussions about how important it is to have representation, but once again, the disabled and chronically ill community is being left out of the conversation.
By refusing to include disabled people in our media, we are creating a world where we are considered the “other.” People don’t know how to react around us. They don’t know what to say. Instead of being seen as what we are — survivors who are strong and able to do everything others can do, even with our disadvantages — we’re seen as people to pity.
The media plays an integral role in shaping public opinion. By placing people with disabilities in shows, magazines, and ads, it says, “These people are just like us. They are in the world and deserve the same as we do.”
While we’re at it, many social media influencers are bringing disability into the conversation. There is a split here, however, between those who are worth supporting and others who aren’t. People who are actually disabled and discuss how it affects their lives, showing how they live and thrive with it, are inspirational. I adore them.
But there’s also a type of media circulating that infantilizes people with disabilities. We are oh so cute. How adorable that people with autism could find love. How sweet that the person in a wheelchair is able to work! This kind of media does nothing but add to the stereotype that as disabled people, we are childlike and can’t take care of ourselves. Some refer to this as “eternal innocence.”
More than disabled
Being disabled is not the most interesting thing about me. I’m writing a fantasy novel, I have awesome fashion sense, and I’m an advocate. I love animals and collect postcards. However, when someone has no access to me, or others like me, their perspective is narrowed to see me as only disabled.
I will continue to showcase my life and support those who do the same. If you have any influence over media, I urge you to challenge your beliefs and consider us when you have conversations about inclusion.
Note: Cushing’s Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cushing’s Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Cushing’s.