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Representations of Issues:


Representation of Issues: Disability

How does this text
reinforce or challenge
what you know about
How does it represent

Representation of Issues: Disability

Here is someone who is
not simply "in" a
wheelchair (are all
disabled people in
wheelchairs?), but who
relies on the structure of
the chair to give them
Its arms and legs are drawn like mechanical parts, its
posture is unnaturally erect, and its entire look is one
that makes the chair, not the person, important and
visible. The Accessible Icon Project

Representation of disability in different

media formats

stereotypes of
the disabled
exist in the

1. Pitiable and pathetic; sweet and innocent; childlike

2. Victim of violence or bullying
3. Sinister or evil
4. The noble warrior, triumphing over tragedy
5. The butt of jokes
6. Aggressive avenger
7. A burden on society, incapable of participating in
everyday life
8. Non-sexual

Match the following texts to these

Remember to consider:
how appearance and behaviour reinforce or
challenge stereotypes
how the texts have been mediated (selection;
organisation; focus)

What different readings exist of this

Lou and Andy

What is the impact of these


Jenny Morris (1991) argues that cultural portrayals of disability are

usually about the feelings of non-disabled people and their reactions
to disability, rather than about disability itself. Disability thus becomes:

...a metaphor...for the message that the non-disabled writer

wishes to get across, in the same way that beauty is used.
In doing this, the writer draws on the prejudice, ignorance
and fear that generally exist towards disabled people,
knowing that to portray a character with a humped back,
with a missing leg, with facial scars, will evoke certain
feelings in the reader or audience. The more disability is
used as a metaphor for evil, or just to induce a sense of
unease, the more the cultural stereotype is confirmed
(Morris, 1991:93).
Many impairments are hidden (dyslexia, visual impairments, deafness etc).

List the types of impairment you have seen in TV programmes, films,

magazine or newspaper articles. How do you feel about the people
represented in them? Do they inspire pity or horror for example?

Case Study 1: Artie

Wheelchairs tend to predominate on TV, since they are
an iconic sign of disability. Most actors playing disabled
characters are, however, not disabled.
The wheelchair allows the character to be obviously
disabled, whilst still looking normal, and does not
therefore present any major challenges for audience
e.g. Artie from Glee

-- does he break or reinforce

disabled in a car accident

social outcast due to his disability
bullied/victim of violence due to his disability
overcomes his disability to dance/sing
needs special arrangements re: transport etc.
his strongest desire is to walk (has several
dream sequences where he is able-bodied)

Case Study 2: The Superhumans


Oscar Pistorius
Using the constructionist
approach to representation,
analyse the following texts
featuring Oscar Pistorius.
How do they challenge
How have they been
How have the
representations been

Different readings:
What do you think is the preferred reading of this text?
Why was it removed after Pistorius was arrested for the murder of his
girlfriend? (i.e. what other readings were possible after this event?)