The image shows the “Make the Right Real in Malaysia” logo of The OKU Rights Matter website and an image of two smiling brothers, the older with his right hand over the right shoulder of the younger one with spinal muscular atrophy and using a wheelchair.

Disability in the Media

Even trees need a friend. We all need friends. It all happens automatically. We want to use a lot pressure while using no pressure at all.

Disability in the Media

Images and stories in the media can deeply influence public opinion and establish societal norms. Persons with disabilities are seldom covered in the media, and when they are featured, they are often negatively stereotyped and not appropriately represented.

UN DESA, Disability and the Media

It is quite common to see narratives that portray persons with disabilities in the following perspectives:

  • As objects and recipients of pity and charity.
  • As someone who has to overcome a tragic and disabling condition.
  • As someone who feels inconvenienced by their disability and adaptive equipment, instead of the inaccessible environment.
  • As determined people who strives to do exactly what abled people do, in exactly the same way.
  • As superheroes who have accomplished great feats.
  • In stories, books, and movies, evil characters are often written as a person or a being with deformities.

The voice of persons with disabilities matter. Persons with disabilities have stories and perspectives about their lived experiences with disability that non-disabled persons cannot tell on their behalf. Stories of disabilities that are being told by non-disabled persons often contain inaccurate portrayals and images of disability such as those mentioned above, which can be harmful to persons with disabilities.

In fact, some persons with disabilities internalise the negative stereotypes and narratives of disability held by the mainstream society and this often impacts their self-worth. And when the input of persons with disabilities continues to be ignored in the storytelling process, it perpetuates a never-ending cycle of misunderstanding disability and reinforcing false narratives of disability created by the mainstream society.

In the media, we need more accurate and balanced depiction of disability as a part of everyday life. We need to see more persons with disabilities being hired as actors/actresses, models, and news anchors to be featured in movies, advertisements, news presentation, etc. Unfortunately, in movies and TV series, non-disabled actors and actresses are often commissioned to act as a person with disability.

Reporting and depiction of disability in the media needs to change to one that is respectful, inclusive and upholds the dignity of persons with disabilities. The first step to doing that is to involve or consult persons with disabilities in the process of writing and creating media content.

Persons with disabilities have the right to accurate and dignified portrayal in the media. Persons with disabilities have the right to see people who live with disability in the media – people whom they can relate to.

Why Disability Representation Matters (And Not Just in the Media) by The Body is Not an Apology

Disability and the Media by United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA)

Ableism Is Embedded In Our Language. We Can Dismantle It in Buzzfeed News

I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much by Stella Young in TEDxSydney

Disability-Inclusive Communications Guidelines by United Nations

What Do I Say? A guide to language about disability by People With Disability Australia

Disability Language Style Guide by National Center on Disability and Journalism

Disability Isn’t a Bad Word by Kathryn Poe

Disability Language Guide

Ableist Language to Avoid – includes a list of words to use or avoid when describing persons with or without disabilities

Unlearning Ableism