Media & Disability

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Guide on media & disability

Portrayal

Consulting Disability Organisations

When seeking disabled programme contributors you may decide to consult a specialist disability organisation for help. Consultation is important, and it is always advisable to talk to more than one organisation if you can in order to get a broad picture. A wide range of disability organisations have grown up over the years. Usually these specialise in a specific impairment and cater for different viewpoints. They may have different aims. Such organisations can include those which provide charitable support, advice and information, and those that are politically involved, and who actively lobby to change the status quo. It is also worth noting that some organisations representing disabled people are managed by non-disabled people, and may not always accurately reflect the views of disabled people themselves.

When consulting with different groups, you might have to tease out some of the conflicting messages or information as well as the external and internal politics. You’ll miss useful people, interesting stories and surprising viewpoints if you only work with the biggest and best known organisations, and if you limit yourself to working only through such agencies.

Some groups may be more interested in promoting their cause than fitting into the editorial specification of your programme. Be clear to them about what you are trying to achieve from the beginning. Try to bring organisations in at an early stage, carry them with you and don’t forget them when the programme is delivered. Make sure they know the transmission dates, and encourage feedback from their members or beneficiaries after the programme has been broadcast.

Respect for human dignity and treatment of minorities

Viewers have a right to expect that broadcasters and programme-makers will reflect their responsibility to preserve human dignity, as far as possible, in respect of both individuals, and individuals as members of groups. Individuals should not be patronized, or exploited needlessly or caused unnecessary distress, nor should the audience be made to feel mere voyeurs of others’ distress. In particular, consideration should be given to the treatment of vulnerable minorities, bearing in mind the likely effects of both misrepresentation and under-representation.

Humour

Humour is an area which has been hotly debated, but it can be very powerful at normalizing issues. Whereas once any humourous reference to disability might have caused offence to either disabled or non-disabled people, there are now more comedians who are keen to actively exploit the comic potential of disability in their acts. This has been largely made possible by an increase in the number of disabled comedians who themselves have presented ground-breaking work that challenges traditional attitudes using sharp, satirical and sometimes deliberately shocking material. There is a long tradition of humour based on oppression and inequality. It should be possible for people with disabilities to be included in programmes of all kinds, particularly where the humour means laughing with people, rather than laughing at them.