Disabled people should be treated as people first by the media

With the world being so vast, there is never enough time in a person’s life to see and experience it all. This leads to people often getting a lot of what they know from various forms of media. Most media of today holds a very important role in portraying things as we know to others across the world, making it crucial to depict things in an accurate manner instead of jumping straight to stereotypes. One matter that is frequently misrepresented is the portrayal of people with disabilities.

Some of the main issues are terminology and stereotypes. A handful of these portrayals could be anything from being unable to participate in daily life, a burden, rejected by society, pitiable or pathetic, to non-sexual and evil as the result of resentment. Things like those examples just aren’t the realities for the average person.

Recently a movie came out called Me Before You. To be clear I have not watched the movie, but the response from the community speaks for itself. People in the disability rights movement surmised an underlying message that the movie is advocating for suicide and implying that living with a disability is a burden on loved ones. The fact that the plot follows the notion that being dead is better than being disabled is a disturbing idea to put into not only the minds of the youth, but everyone else as well.

Moreover, the usage of these images and certain uses of wording are damaging and need to be approached from a different angle. The diminishing feeling of being viewed as one’s disability before being viewed as a person with their own set of unique traits is something the news, movies and television shows can change using the mass media platform before them.

A solution to using dehumanizing terminology is an approach called people-first language, restructuring phrases to avoid subconsciously demeaning a person’s character by instead referring to the person first, then the condition. For example, instead of referring to someone as a “wheelchair-bound person” one could phrase it as “a person who uses a wheelchair.” This small change in syntax shifts the focus on the individual and not their disability.

Also, wheelchair-bound implies a very black and white definition where the reader may assume that the person is fully incapable of walking. This assumption is harmful because plenty of wheelchair users can walk. Sometimes for a long distance and sometimes short, but that’s exactly the point – that each person’s ability varies.

Casting processes for shows and movies should be writing people’s disorders into scripts over centering the character’s presence around a disability. This will further ensure that the character actually has substance to them. People with disabilities need to be represented as individuals rather than as a prop to inspire or make others feel better about themselves.

An excellent example of this is from the show “Stranger Things.” The actor Gaten Matarazzo, who stars as Dustin has a disorder called cleidocranial dysplasia. Once he was casted, the producers wrote his disorder into the script to accommodate to the actor. That is something that needs to happen more so everyone has an equal opportunity to an actor.

There are countless characters with disabilities that have able-bodied actors that play the role. The reasoning behind this being the case escapes me. It makes much more sense to hire someone who not only fits the role, but has a full understanding of what it means to live with the given disability.

The biggest reason why all of these technicalities are necessary is because it will help to give individuality back to people no matter their disability. Language is strong and can make the difference between degrading someone’s dignity to encouraging an equal playing field. People are people and everyone needs to be seen as such before making assumptions about how they live and feel.