As I have written more and more about disabilities on this blog, I have discovered that my thoughts have revolved mostly around how it is covered in mainstream media. For me as an able bodied person, media is the most noticeable place that I see frustrating ideological portrayals of peoples with disabilities.
Separately, I learn from the blogs of other activists how much distress there is about how the able bodied population in the world doesn’t understand peoples with disabilities, and I couldn’t agree more.
The reason I mention these two things together is because I see how pivotal media is to cultural education of the population. For example, I think that the TV show Will and Grace had a very significant impact on how gay men are understood in the general American culture. The show portrayed the character Will as a successful, smart lawyer who was looking for a long term relationship. In many ways that was contrary to the stereotypical gay man. I believe that this portrayal improved the way most Americans understood gay people because they were exposed to a more positive and more realistic example.
Likewise I see that there is great potential for “good” portrayals of peoples with disabilities to affect the way Americans understand the group. I would define “good” here to mean some character that is able to connect with viewers without the barrier of the disability getting between them. As I have posted before, this idea is similar to how The Color Purple erases the barrier of race between the characters and the viewers through a compelling and human storyline.
So while activists should continue to lobby for reforms in government and in their communities, I think it is also imperative for the disability movement that we use media more effectively to teach the population what we want them to understand, that peoples with disabilities are every bit as flawed, dignified, relevant, human, beautiful, funny, dorky, and capable of contributing to the world as anyone.
This blog is about reconciling the two worlds of disability understanding. On one side are the strong voices of activists in the disability community. On the other is the well meaning but naïve/ ignorant able bodied population who see disability as something pitiable. As an able bodied person who has realized the very compelling and interesting arguments about society and life coming from the disability community, I am compelled to referee the exchanges between the two sides. Often times it seems that everyone is speaking so loudly and with such great conviction that the other doesn't even listen. Since I am not personally motivated by either side, I can weigh both sides of the arguments and hopefully facilitate an open and accepting space for both sides to express themselves and learn about each other. Please join the discussion!