Why Disability Representaion Matters

Written By: Mary Lucas 

From the #MeToo movement to Time’s Up, actresses and actors are increasingly taking on issues of social justice. Now, more than ever, individuals with disabilities need their movement. This not only applies to their representation in these two movements but in the entertainment industry as a whole.

We want our stories to be told, and we want them to be told accurately and be represented by individuals with disabilities.  Disabled people deserve to be shown and normalized.

Like with any issue affecting marginalized people, disability is something that people rarely take the time to think about. Many rarely seek out the first-hand experiences of disabled people, instead choosing to discuss the issue with other abled people (if at all). Many in our community don’t ask us what we need – they plan spaces for abled people and then act perplexed about why disabled people aren’t there.

The entertainment industry does just this; hiring able-bodied actors who have lived experience of the character they play. They play deeply into stigmas and stereotypes around disability. The entertainment industry needs more portrayals of disabled characters who don’t die, become cured, or find out they were never disabled all along. We need more disabled characters who live.

Disability cure plots are seen all the time in the media, but these narratives only serve to perpetuate the trope that death is much better than living with a disability. This is one issue that I think is most important because, there are many disabled people who don’t want to be cured and have successful, fulfilling lives with their disabilities

But people don’t always see that. Instead, they often assume that being disabled means you cannot do anything. There are some people in-between who have various misconceptions about what disabled people can and cannot do. And there are a few people, who think that being disabled doesn’t have any implications for the way you do things.

A lot of these misconceptions are because of the way the media represent us which leads to misinformation. As many people in the world never come in to contact with a disabled person, because we are a minority, or don’t realize they’ve come in to contact with a disabled person as many disabilities are invisible, they don’t have any experience. And because people don’t know, they assume.

We should train and develop journalists with disabilities – radical shifts in how we think about disability, particularly in the entertainment industry;  where it is competitive, and employers are reluctant to hire individuals with disabilities needs to happen first.

However, the myths & stereotypes that are associated with disabilities don’t only exist on the employers’ side of the table. Often people with disabilities are also hindered by a lack of self-confidence–and it’s rooted in a lack of representation

Making sure that individuals with disabilities have affordable and accessible accommodations while training and that will help bring disabled people into the industry. We need to think seriously about introducing flexible working hours (also useful for eradicating the disability pay gap) or job sharing.

If we, as a society want authentic narratives of individuals with disabilities, we should invest in them. Reach out to individuals with disabilities to hear their experiences, hire individuals with disabilities to write their narrative and hire disabled actors/actresses when casting for a disabled part!

Solutions for more disability representation (across the spectrum):

Some solutions are simple; taking steps to gain free access, have plenty of seating & space & considering accessible transport.

Others are harder: You have to destroy the assumption that we are all abled unless we look disabled. You have to challenge the assumption that disabled people have less to offer than abled people, You have to amplify disabled people’s voices and to make your abled peers listen, You have to destigmatize the choices people make to survive.

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