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Friday, 20 May 2011

What are the effects that the Media has had on Disabled Peoples lives?

Disability in the media has always played an important role in shaping the lives of disabled people. For many years the only stories shown were that of sob stories and those who have achieved great things against the odds. There are two main areas of Disability and the media that I would like to cover. Firstly that of the effect the media has on disabled sport and secondly that of the news and the limited coverage of disabled people's issues.

Media and the effect that it has on disability is a hot topic for many at the moment, due to much of the media that is portrayed being of the negative persuasion. Disability is often in the media eye for many of the wrong reasons, and if not directly wrong reasons, it is usually for something like that of Oscar Pistorius where the discussion was around his ability and whether it would be fair for him to join mainstream sport. Unfortunately, there was a controversial thought that he would have an unfair advantage over his fellow able bodied athletes. His prosthetic limbs that are designed for running are done so in such a way to make it easier for him to move, so in some respects I can understand the idea that he will get an unfair advantage. On the flip side I would like to point out the difference in running style that he has to adopt to be able to use these limbs which is much harder for him than for his able bodied counterparts. To go the same distance, at the same speed he would have to go twice as hard. The way the media portrayed this story led to negative opinions about such inclusion and on a more general note just reiterates the lack of inclusion and how its acceptable. In the end it was decided that he would be able to run with his fellow able-bodied athletes but not before he had to fight for the right to be equal.

I would like to add at this point but will mention more later is the need for sensational television and disability only being identified at both ends of the scale. There is the pitied disabled person, who is unable to look after themselves. Then there is the person who has achieved greatness within their general expertise. The point just made can and may actually be another blog post by me in the near future.

Keeping on the subject of sport, there are many aspects that I feel the media fails at miserably when thinking about disability sport in the media. Next year is the year the Paralympics and the Olympics are coming to London and I am sure you are all aware about the hype given to those wanting tickets for the Olympics even if you are not that interested in sport but what about those who want tickets for the Paralympics? Do people even know when these tickets go on sale? How much media coverage has it received in relation to the Olympics?

The fact is ticket prices were announced on the 11th May (yes really) and tickets go on sale in September, but I am sure not many people realise this. The fact is the Olympic tickets were being discussed, advertised and generally unable to be forgotten about for around 6 months or more prior to them going on sale but there really hasn't been much at all about the Paralympics. The name Paralympics comes from running parallel to the Olympic games which, although well intended is in fact it is as far from the truth. The Paralympics is the Olympics poor relation which is exactly how many disabled people are made to feel on a daily basis when they are compared to their able bodied peers. This is also shown in relation to the coverage that other disabled sporting events have received in the past. All over the papers and television, footballers will be shown being reported for their personal and professional lives. There are a number of events throughout the year that disabled athletes participate in but rarely is this advertised. If there is any coverage it might be 2 hours on a Sunday afternoon for a competition that has been running for the last 2 weeks. The reason provided is that there isn't the demand, I would say they need to make the demand. Most able bodied sport that is shown on the television has the demand because of all the promotional hype that it is provided. If disabled sport was given the same level of advertising and was made to be part of normal life then perhaps it might be of interest to people.

People need to be educated about many different aspects of disability and the only way that this can be done is if it becomes a normal part of the able bodied society. Channel 4 are going to be the broadcasters for the Paralympics in the UK and admittedly they are trying to raise the profile of disability sport and promote positive views on disabled people. However when you look at what is being done for the Olympics, with endless hours of back-to-back coverage, multichannel output, interactive services. I'm sure Channel 4 will do a good job showing the Paralympics (they can't do a worse job than the BBC did 3 years ago), they don't have the same resources to dedicate to it.

There is still a long way to go before disability and in particularly disability sport becomes the norm, with people showing the right kind of interest. The way in which disability sport has been portrayed in the media up to now has added to the idea of pitying disabled people, regularly having the emphasis put on sob stories rather than the actual sport that they are participating in and are actually the best in their field. Once again to their credit Channel 4 are working to combat this, but as already mentioned there is still a long way to go.

As mentioned previously Channel 4 are attempting to make disability more normal, Hollyoaks for example has had a number of actors who are truly disabled and they have not been scared to be a little controversial at times firstly with a disabled mum-to-be and more recently a disabled headteacher. Although this has shown positive models of disability it may not have always shown a true example of what it is like for disabled people. I myself have learnt it is not as easy as it is sometimes made out to be, to be involved in normal life, in particularly that of getting a job. I don't want the roles played to be pitiful but a truer picture of what it means to be disabled would help those who are disabled and are actually struggling with the hand they have been dealt in the society that they live in.

Disabled people living normal lives, with normal struggles are not represented in the media coverage and when they are it is done in such a way that we are pitied and misunderstood. Why should I have to do anything amazing to be listened to? I should have the same rights as the next person. An example of this inequality was that of the Hardest Hit March and the Rally Against Debt. Around 8000 disabled people joined the Hardest Hit March in London (it would have been more if disabled people weren't scared their benefits would be taken away if they went), whereas a measly 300 people joined the Rally Against Debt. Unfortunately the number of people who supported these two protests was not representative to the amount of media coverage that was given to this issue. Although the Rally Against Debt received little coverage it still received some. The Hardest Hit March received very little in comparison and if there had only been a few hundred people there would have been no coverage for this big issue.

Media coverage is regularly biased and although there was some coverage of the March, the coverage it received was limited and bias. On the day of the Hardest Hit March The Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller MP, was interviewed on the BBC and she went on to talk about the 'changes' to benefits for disabled people to decrease the supposed abuse of the system. She spoke about drug addicts and alcoholic scroungers as though they were the main people to claim these benefits, this would be fair enough if it happened to be true. The sad fact, is that this could not be further from the truth and has not given a fair insight into people living with disabilities. They face financial hardships due to it being more expensive for them to live because of increased fuel bills disabled people endure and the need for specialist equipment. Disability benefits, especially DLA are hard to receive as it is and the number of abusers is so minimal that it can hardly be said that these benefits are widely abused.  To make the news report that I am referring to less bias there should have been a disabled person discussing why they were protesting and what these changes mean to them and many other disabled people, but as usual disabled people weren't given a voice.

Unfortunately, this type of coverage is shown a lot and does not help disabled people to be part of society. In fact it just adds to the false opinion that all disabled people are scroungers or they need to be pitied. It has led to an increase in hate crime and generally disabled people feeling less of society than they ever have. To make disability normal and give disabled people the chance to be heard the media needs to help to make it possible.

The media need to be part of the solution not part of the problem. While disabled people are seen as the able bodied person's poor relation that is exactly what we will be. Its time for a change in attitudes but we can't do it alone.


  1. Itsmotherswork20 May 2011 at 22:57

    Well said! So many issues wrapped up in this post, but I am particularly struck by the unequal coverage of the hardest hit march vs the rally against debt. So unfair and unrepresentative. Grrrr!

  2. a well written piece thank you for that. The storyline in Emmerdale is driving me crazy at the moment as we often have discussions here at home from TDB about his feelings of being in my way and not wanting to be alive anymore as everything is too hard.

  3. I was a disabled archer - and a good one. In my first year I took over 6 club records, 2 club gold medals and a bronze, and third place in both the Wirral Open and Bebington Open tournaments. Not bad for a newbie!

    However, I would not have been allowed allowed to progress much beyond that point as one of my drugs, Salbutamol, is a banned substance (god knows what they'd have made of the other 15 drugs!). Why, I never understood, as the principal side effects of Salbutamol are tachycardia and tremor. What possible advantage could an archer derive from that? That I could shoot so well despite such a handicap should have been lauded. It wasn't.

    And that, as a corollary to my own post of this morning is why you will see disabled athletes at the Paralympics, but many sick and disabled athletes, often of superior prowess, will be prohibited from taking part because their medication has been declared illegal.

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  5. Really interesting article. The sport stuff was particularly interesting to me having been an international disabled sprinter for a few years, I don't agree with everything you say, but I find the views interesting and considered.

    The explanation of Paralympic as being from parallel to the Olympics, whilst the official explanation always sat uncomfortably with me. It originally came from paraplegic and the event was originally completely unrelated to the Olympics and its own event. The integration of appearance of integration was for largely commercial reasons. I find the IPCs explanation of the term to be slightly revisionist and against the original principal

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