Media portrayal of disability/facial disfigurement and its impact on a 'disabled identity' Abstract
The purpose of this paper is to illustrate how, from a historical perspective, media representation has impacted on the lives of people with disabilities, with a focus on facial disfigurement. A comparison between the terms ‘impairment’ and ‘disabled’ will clearly identify a difference between the concepts in terms of the medical and social models of disability. The paper will continue by analysing how negative media imagery has served to diminish the lives of people with facial disfigurement and ultimately been responsible for creating a ‘disabled identity’. Furthermore, the paper will highlight the shift from the medical model to a social model of disability, while taking into account the views and perceptions of groups of people with disabilities. It is important to consider the difference between the terms ‘impairment’ and ‘disabled’. Mason (2000) describes impairment as a characteristic, feature or attribute within an individual which is long term and may affect an individual’s appearance or affect the functioning of that individual’s mind or body, because of, or regardless of society. Mason further suggests that disabled people are those with impairments who are disabled by barriers in society. This includes people with physical impairments, people with visual impairments, people with learning difficulties and those who have experienced mental illness. The two terms ‘impairment’ and ‘disabled’ signal a difference between the concepts, in terms of the medical and social models of disability. According to Clough and Corbett (2000) the medical model points to practices which call on pathology. (that is, a science of disease) The model focuses on sickness, rather than health and reactive measures instead of preventative measures. Hence, under the medical model, disabled people are defined by their impairment, illness or medical condition. Open University (2006) suggest that the medical model promotes the view of a disabled person as dependent, needing to be cured or cared for. It justifies the way in which disabled people are excluded from society. Brainhe (2010) suggests that the social model is a concept which recognises that some individuals have impairments which can affect their ability to function in society. However, it is society that causes the individual to become disabled. According to Shakespear (1996) Identity is viewed by the medical model negatively as the focus in relation to disability is primarily based on adjusting, mourning and coming to terms with loss. Furthermore, identity is about belonging, what you have in common with others and how you differ from others. Conversely, the social model focuses on oppression within society and calls for change, empowering and promoting a different self-understanding. (Shakespear, 1996) According to Changing Faces (2008) The word “disfigurement” is used to describe the aesthetic effects of a mark, rash, scar or skin graft on a person’s skin or an asymmetry or paralysis to their face or body. Furthermore, disfigurement can affect anyone in childhood or adulthood, from any ethnic group, whether it is the result of an accident, trauma, violent attack, caused by a disease such as cancer or the aftermath of a surgical procedure. Moreover, 112,000 young people in the United Kingdom have a significant facial disfigurement. Safran (1998) suggests that as a culture of mass media consumers, messages from newspapers and television impact on public attitudes towards individuals with disabilities and help shape social attitudes, through the provision of information about the nature of exceptionalities. Furthermore, encouraging social attitudes and acceptance are critical to inclusion for successful community and educational integration. Research by Bogdan (1988) indicated that during the nineteenth and twentieth century, media representation reflected the medical model of...
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