Thursday, October 7, 2010

Disability in the media: Time to change attitudes

Despite being a double amputee, Robert David Hall juggles a successful
acting career, including a decade-long role as Dr. Al Robbins, coroner on
“CSI: Las Vegas,” and working as a disability activist, especially
as Chair of I AM PWD.
(Picture: Copyright Christopher Veolker, Wikimedia Commons)

So far in this series, I’ve focused on the situation that already is:

  • the various ways in which disability is portrayed in the media, both positive and negative;
  • how a few disabled roles require more from actors than people with certain disabilities can manage;
  • how disabled actors who could play disabled roles are often overlooked when casting those roles;
  • and contrary to the ways in which disability is often portrayed in the media, how many disabled people are abused in real life.

Of course, people who know what life is really like for the disabled also understand the reasons we need to change many of these conditions. But some people might wonder why we should even bother trying to change the ways in which disability is portrayed in the media.

The reason is simple: In order to effect social changes, we must focus on images of disability as portrayed in popular culture. This could be the only way to change the minds of many people who judge us by images they see on the big and little screens. As I AM PWD Chairman Robert David Hall explains:

“Society’s values and priorities are expressed and reflected in film, television, theatre, news and music. If you aren’t seen and heard, you are invisible. People with disabilities are largely invisible within the arts and media landscape. I AM PWD will change that.”

Thus, the job requires a comprehensive multi-pronged approach. Besides working in communities to improve the lives of people with various disabilities, everyone--from executives to producers to performers to consumers--must take action to change the face of entertainment and news. Employers within and outside of the media must hire more people with various types of disabilities. That means not only casting people with disabilities in various media productions, but hiring more disabled people for jobs in production offices.

We consumers can take action by demanding these changes too. We must support productions that include disabled performers, especially those that present honest portrayals of the reality that people with disabilities must deal with. In addition, we must refuse to support those productions that violate these principles. Write letters, send emails, and make phone calls to let media companies know you expect to see more disabled performers in their productions and disapprove of portrayals that go against these principles.

We must do the same with all the other types of companies too. People with disabilities have always experienced the highest percentage of unemployment in the country. We must learn more about which companies hire disabled workers and buy more of their products and services whenever possible.

And since disabled people experience a higher percentage of poverty than other minorities, we must support laws and policies that provide support and services to disabled people who need them. For instance, besides supporting federal laws that ensure most Americans will receive adequate health services, no matter their medical histories, we must lobby our representatives to improve what was only a first step toward providing everyone with all necessary medical care.

There are many other things we can all do to help make life better for people with various disabilities. Every so often, I’ll share information about the different ways we can all help in this endeavor, as well as many of the organizations that are leading the way in this campaign. Meanwhile, for more information on this issue, you can watch the video below (or go to YouTube to watch the video) from Robert David Hall and I AM PWD to learn more about the problems disabled performers face in an industry that has tried to keep us as invisible as they can.

Now that I’ve discussed various aspects of the images of disability in the media, my next article will be a bit more personal. I’m going to share another side of the media images of disability. I’ll reveal a somewhat naughty (no, not that kind of “naughty”) fantasy that many of us with certain types of disabilities have about the media invention of the disabled “hero.” Check back in a couple of days for that.

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