Disability in the Media
It has been a quarter of a century since Nancy Mairs wrote her essay Disability about the
media’s weak portrayal of people with disabilities and only recently has there been in a change
their representation on the small and big screens. While there is now a significantly larger number of
persons with disabilities represented on TV and in movies, the roles still lack the character depth and
screen time given to able-bodied characters. Disability rights activists say that characters with disabilities
are still too often used as secondary characters, for comedic relief, or for emotionally charged singular
episodes. Despite the negative stereotypes in the media’s depiction of disabled people, there are a few
positive portrayals of disabled characters that are giving disabled rights activists hope.
Literature, media and pop culture have spawned offensive stereotypes that have persisted
throughout the years and can be found in extremely famous works such as Victor Hugo’s The
Hunchback of Notre Dame and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Disabled characters throughout
literature are often the victims of violence and are often mistreated by the story’s able-bodied
characters. The stereotyping and misrepresentation of these characters has been broken down into
groups; The object of pity, sinister or evil, the eternally innocent, and the victims of violence. These
tropes have endured because they are constantly reinforced in our mass media culture.
Among the negative stereotypes, the media does give us a few positive depictions of disabled
characters. One of the most currently watched TV shows, Breaking Bad, RJ Mitte plays Walt Jr. and
offers an honest and heavily praised portrayal of a teenager with cerebral palsy. Disabled rights activists
have praised the depth of the character and RJ Mitte’s ability to allow the character’s personality and
wit to take center...
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