Challenging Disabling Images has been an ongoing issue as this month’s from the vault shows. We have struggled with it in preparing the cover for this issue. The usual physical disability images do not represent the range of disabilities – many disabilities are not captured in an image. Images can also be used to stereotype people. Disability is a part of everyday society and the images of people with disabilities doing everyday things are needed to normalise this for all concerned. Images of Paralympic athletes and Stephen Hawking demonstrate achievements with a disability but are not representative of most of those with a disability.
For us it is about where and how we use images so people see the issue or the person rather that the specific disability. It’s visually don’t dis my ability.
Challenging Disabling Images – Summer 1994
There have been no effective moves by the media and advertising industries, or government, to promote practices aimed at eroding all too common media stereotypes of people with disabilities.
A new national research project, Disability, Representation and Social Participation, will look at the effects those images have on people’s lives and what we can do to improve media standards.
A new National Research Project has recently been set up to explore the ways in which images of disability are created and used in the mass media. The project will investigate the impact of those images on people with disabilities and explore the strategies that people with disabilities might be able to use to overcome social barriers, to participate more fully in the decisions that influence their lives.
The project, Disability, Representation and Social Participation, has just started and will run for three years.
It is hoped the project will have a number of practical outcomes. One may be to work with disability organisations, the media industry and policy makers on drafting good practice guidelines for broadcasters, advertising agencies, charities and others in relation to how people with disabilities are presented in the media.
Debate and direct action, over the past few years by organisations around the world of people with disabilities, have raised a number of challenges to the traditional and often stereotypical images of disability used by a wide range of organisations involved in providing services, policy-making or fundraising. Such images are seen by the movement as discriminatory and disabling, and as having an impact on the participation in economic, cultural and social life desired and required by people with disabilities.
In Australia, no effective moves have yet been made by the media and advertising industries, or by government, to explore, develop and promote good practice aimed at eroding all too common media stereotypes of people with disabilities as, for example, ‘heroic’, ‘tragic victims’, ‘evil’, or ‘passive and dependent’ .
The project aims, by setting up in depth discussion groups and interviews with a range of people and organisations, and by analysing everyday images of disability, to assist in the overdue public debate about effective means of challenging this particular aspect of discrimination.
The researchers, Helen Meekosha and Andrew Jakubowicz, believe that changes in the media are closely related to the broader empowerment of people with disabilities. They would welcome comments, ideas, examples of images from the media, and further queries.
Helen Meekosha, School of Social Work, UNSW, PO Box 1, Kensington, NSW 2033.
Originally published in Inner Voice Summer 1994