Disability as seen through the lens of Irish media

By Sarah O’Brien

There are numerous articles, television and radio programmes (like RTE’s own ‘outside the box’)  dedicated to the ‘plight of the disabled’. These articles tend to focus on, the disability itself rather than the person.

In an Irish Times article the term ‘wheelchair-bound’ is used in the headline to describe a man who bombed a Chinese airport.

Journalists wouldn’t report whether the subject of a crime story, was black or white for fear of racial profiling, so why is it ok to define someone by their disability- in short It’s not.Terminology like ‘Wheelchair-bound’ is harmful and instead of  promoting a positive attitude toward disability, it actually serves to alienate people further.

In 2007, Winning Streak was reported to have been unable to tailor a set for a disabled contestant, leaving the shows presenter, Derek Mooney to ‘spin the wheel’ for her.

The author writes: ‘ after I got over the shock of seeing a disabled person on the television that is – not talking about their disability... In fact it is not the first time I have seen someone with a disability on Winning Streak – maybe that’s how all disabled people are supposed to get on television if they are not starring in People in Need.’

The same inequality can be seen across the board on Irish television. Only 10%  of  Irish actors are disabled on Irish programmes and out of that percentage  2/3 of them are playing very’ minor or incidental roles’ according to research done by a Dublin university.

The popular Belfast based ‘Game of Thrones’ series won an award for Disability awareness. David Radcliff of the Writers With Disabilities Committee of the Writers Guild of America, wrote a letter to the series author saying:

it is a fantastic credit to your work that Game of Thrones is not commonly thought of as a show that “deals with” disability – it is something even better: a show that embraces the reality that no one is easily definable.’

So it would seem that Game of Thrones has succeeded in integrating disability into the premise of the show and normalising it.

It already IS normal, disability is very much a part of our society, and the longer main stream media, whether it be television, radio, newspaper or online media continues to treat disability with kid gloves or indeed ignore it altogether, the more it’s consumers are losing touch from reality.

There should be equality for everyone, not just in the written Irish legislation but interwoven into the very fabric of our society.

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