Disability in the Media

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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 stage,

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