Disability and the Media: Prescriptions for Change

Front Cover
UPNE, 2005 - Performing Arts - 258 pages
0 Reviews
In the past decade, the mass media discovered disability. Spurred by the box-office appeal of superstars such as the late Christopher Reeve, Michael J. Fox, Stephen Hawking, and others, and given momentum by the success of Oscar-winning movies, popular television shows, best-selling books, and profitable websites, major media corporations have reversed their earlier course of hiding disability, bringing it instead to center stage.

Yet depictions of disability have remained largely unchanged since the 1920s. Focusing almost exclusively on the medical aspect of injury or illness, the disability profile in fact and fiction leads inevitably to an inspiring moment of "overcoming." According to Riley, this cliche plays well with a general audience, but such narratives, driven by prejudice and pity, highlight the importance of "fixing" the disability and rendering the "sufferer" as normal as possible. These stories are deeply offensive to persons with disabilities. Equally important, misguided coverage has adverse effects on crucial aspects of public policy, such as employment, social services, and health care.

Powerful and influential, the media is complicit in this distortion of disability issues that has proven to be a factor in the economic and social repression of one in five Americans. Newspapers and magazines continue to consign disability stories to the "back of the book" health or human-interest sections, using offensive language that has long been proscribed by activists. Filmmakers compound the problem by featuring angry misfits or poignant heroes of melodramas that pair love and redemption. Publishers churn out self-help titles and memoirs that milk the disability theme for pathos. As Riley points out, all branches of the media are guilty of the same crude distillation of the story to serve their own, usually fiscal, ends.

Riley's lively inside investigation illuminates the extent of the problem while pinpointing how writers, editors, directors, producers, filmmakers, advertisers and the executives who give their marching orders go wrong, or occasionally get it right. Through a close analysis of the technical means of representation, in conjunction with the commentary of leading voices in the disability community, Riley guides future coverage to a more fair and accurate way of putting the disability story on screen or paper. He argues that with the "discovery" by Madison Avenue that the disabled community is a major consumer niche, the economic rationale for more sophisticated coverage is at hand. It is time, says Riley, to cut through the accumulated stereotypes and find an adequate vocabulary that will finally represent the disability community in all its vibrant and fascinating diversity.
 

What people are saying - Write a review

We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.

Contents

How the Media Transform Disability
1
The Use and Abuse of the Disability Memoir
24
Revising the Disability Story for the Print Media
50
Losing Focus on Disability in Movies and Television
69
How Advertising Uses Disability
109
The Unfinished Business of the Disability Media
130
The Short Happy Life of an Independent Magazine
157
And Other Myths about Disability and Multimedia
196
Guidelines for Portraying People with Disabilities in the Media
219
Guidelines for Web Accessibility
224
Notes
231
Bibliography
237
Index
245
Copyright

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2005)

CHARLES A. RILEY II is a newsroom veteran, the co-founder of WeMedia, the first multimedia company devoted to people with disabilities, and the former editor-in-chief of WE, its national lifestyle magazine. A former reporter covering politics and policy, science and finance for Fortune magazine, former senior editor of Art & Auction magazine, and a frequent contributor to Art & Antiques magazine, Dr. Riley has appeared on CNN, CNNfn, NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox News and NPR as a commentator on disability-related issues. He has won major service awards for his coverage of disability from Easter Seals, United Cerebral Palsy, the National Recovery Alliance, and other organizations. The author of nine books on the arts, Riley is Associate Professor of English at Baruch College/City University of New York.

Bibliographic information