Not for Sunday night television

Based on the media coverage of people with disabilities, all the inspirational stories and successful overcoming, I guess it’s not surprising that people ask me why I even have to advocate for disabled people.

I’d like to spell out some of the issues we still face – and please remember there is overlap – these are general issues that result in day to day problems.

*Bullying-education, work, social setting (includes gossip, physical assault, harassment)

*Oppression against disabled in different cultures – institutionalization against their will or when less restrictive alternatives can be created; euthanasia of diasbled; lack of housing, jobs

*Image oppression – treating those with disabilities as less than for not looking the same as others; making jokes about their appearance; refusing to be in close proximity with them; refusing to interact with them because they look “different”; asking people to hide their disability (cover up a prosthetic, e.g.)

*Abuse and neglect -refusal of society to provide adequate care resulting in neglect of disabled; abuse and/or neglect by carers, family

* Isolation – lack of transportation , medical equipment, social exclusion, ostracism

*Inadequate social services/programs- gaps in system, pushing disabled into elderly programs

*Ridiculing that results from the status of being disabled – also seen in bullying behaviors but exists as separate phenomenon such as when a person with a disabilty is ridiculed for enforcing his/her rights in litigation, toward social inclusion (e.g. ridiculing or demeaning the person and/or her disability ). It is often a backlash when the disabled person is seen as “not knowing his/her place” or being uppity

and other actions and words which take away someone’s dignity.

This list isn’t intended as a summary of all the advocacy work I do. I’m way too tired doing the advocacy work to compose an A List. There are many areas, what I refer to as “power areas”, where progress made by people with disabilities has been very slow. These usually relate to economics in some way, such as job opportunities, housing or access to equipment.

Our media enjoys doing stories on the people who have succeeded, but avoids covering the ugly realities that exist behind closed doors. The suffering in a day to day life that results, for example, from inadequate care or unnecessary institutionalization doesn’t make good media. The isolation that results from being unable to leave one’s home due to a lack of transportation and equipment just doesn’t get coverage.

Yet these stories are just as valid – and more important- than those we see in which people with disabilities are called “inspirational” . Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to take away from anyone’s accomplishments.

But unbalanced media coverage that focuses on the “feel good” stories results in a pervasive denial of the extent of the issues still facing people with disabilities and their families.

It’s time for us to learn to be mindful of how the media portrays pwd. This includes being aware of opportunities to participate in realistic portrayals of living with a disability, like the new project [with]tv . It also includes speaking up when we see inaccurate and skewed portrayals in the media. Whether it includes a Sunday night TV movie that shows a sappy overcoming theme or a local article that covers a disabled person’s graduation from college but fails to follow through when he/she can’t get a job or transportation to a job six months later, this kind of media coverage needs to start being called on for what it is – skewed.

Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan

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