Representing the disabled community both accurately and respectfully in extremely important mainly because this is how most if not all people learn about things. In some cases, writers and producers can do this well and produce positive and good examples of people with disabilities. However, this is not always the case. In the examples that I have chosen there are factors that in one specifically that create this bad representation. The first example is from the show “Glee”, I chose this mainly because this show is targeted at younger viewers who tend to take what they know from television and use it in the real world. This would make it more crucial to have a good representation of disabled people so that the younger audience will get a good and accurate understanding of mainly how to treat people. There is one character that I will focus on, ‘Artie Abrams’ who is a paraplegic due to a car accident that he was in when he was young. Therefore, he must deal with being a teenager and understanding his ‘new’ life. The other example is a Canadian tire commercial that was widely popular when it had originally come out. This is another good example it will show more detail of how kids will respond to other kids who are a little different than they are. This ad features a young boy who is in a wheelchair and other kids that create this new scenario for this other boy to be involved in.
There is always going to be room for improvement when representing certain people, whether that be able body people or disabled people. For example, when looking at Glee there are certain aspects about it that do not make it good. Some of the things that can change in order to make it good include, giving Artie more of a voice in terms of expressing how it might feel to be in a wheelchair for such a long time. This would be better than having people try to feel what its like mainly just to prove a point. Having Artie learn to truly love himself being in a wheelchair would be a perfect example of a good representation. If the writers had done this than it would show younger viewers that there are disabled and are perfectly happy being like that and that they all do not fit the stereotypes that we all generally know. This would also lead into giving Artie more opportunities to pursue his dream and give him the option to learn certain dance routines that were created for paraplegics rather than forcing him to learn dances that are not good for people in wheelchairs. If the producers and writers had done further research on the topics than this show would have already been a good representation. However, the show is not all bad, there are also some elements that are good representations especially when looking at the way the characters treat and include Artie. In one specific episode Arties peers learn a dance routine for people in wheelchairs and dedicate that routine to Artie.
Canadian tire ad:
The advertisement itself has altered certain parts within itself in order to make it all inclusive and be a good representation of children with disabilities. This ad also proved a point, in terms of showing that anyone can be involved in anything that they want and be equally included even if something must be slightly altered. Since there really isn’t any dialogue in this commercial it would be slightly difficult to determine whether the other kids judged the boy in the wheelchair verbally. However, basing this solely on how they treated him physically, they treated him very kindly and did what they could to include him into the group and not make him feel left out because he is in a wheelchair. The other kids made the decision to include him when they could have easily excluded him from the activity. This would also be another example of the social model, according to Colin Cameron:
“While impairment was recognised as a physical condition… disability became identified as a matter of how society responded to or failed to respond to, the needs of people with impairments” (social model).
In this case, the other kids don’t nessesarily look at the boy in a wheelchair as a problem and don’t classify him as being a person with a disability just because he is different from them. They instead, as said before, include him and try to look past his disability while also altering the game to make it more inclusive. There was no definitive representation of ableism featured in this ad, nothing had been altered in favour of the kids who were able bodied, everything had been altered to benefit the boy in the wheelchair. There was also no representation of tokenism in this ad either, as said before the boy had been included as much as possible. Also, the boy was one of the main focal points of the ad and was not just a background character that gets little to not attention. One of the things that doesn’t make this ad bad, is that there were no stereotypes in this ad. Most stereotypes focus around this idea that people who are disabled are miserable, and the boy in this ad seemed very upbeat most of the time and was excited to be included in the activity. The creators of this ad presented a good representation of disabled people to society and did not fall into the stereotypical habits.
On the surface this show appears good, mainly because the producers included a character that has a disability. However, by analysing this show further I have concluded that this is not the case, and that this show is a bad representation of people with disabilities. There is also a certain level of tokenism in this show surrounding this character. This can be dominantly seen when one of the other characters, (who is a teacher figure) made the decision to have other students who are not disabled use a wheelchair to gain an understanding of ‘how it feels to be in a wheelchair’. One of the other issues that is connected to this, is, from what I am aware of, Artie says nothing about this. This would make it appear as though this character does not have much of a voice in terms of how others might respond to him or try to feel what he feels. One of the other elements that was part of this show, was his activity options. Artie wanted to be a dancer, but in the show, he was never given the option to learn how to dance in the wheelchair, he instead tries to perform dances that he is unable to do and because of this he gives up on his dream. This would be an example of ableism, mainly because there is a level of prejudice against him from himself because he already has this opinion that he can’t do something because he can’t walk, when he never got to experience dancing for paraplegics. This would also be discrimination on the shows part, by basically saying that he can’t do something because he can’t walk. This makes the character out to be someone who constantly feels sorry for themselves rather than trying to move on.
Ableism also, leads into the idea of the ‘Social Model’ and how society:
“exclude[s] people with physical impairments from ordinary life” (social model).
In some cases, this could happen because people don’t understand people with disabilities or don’t want/know how to nessesarily ‘deal’ with them. This would have been done by the producers because they (the society) created a character that rarely looks past his disability and doesn’t think that he can succeed with his dream. It also seems as though he never looks at himself as someone who can be normal. This leads into another issue, which is how Artie constantly feels about his disability, which is he always says how much he wanted to walk again, and it seems as though he never truly accepts his injury and who he is now. He is portrayed the way most people think paraplegics act, or the stereotypes that generally surround them, which is they all want to walk and never want to truly accept themselves. However, this is not always the case, as said before many people accept who they are and truly love themselves for it. This would also be part of the social model.
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Determining whether people/producers tried to be respectful and have a good representation of disabled people can be challenging in the sense that you don’t know what their intentions were. However, since this shows falls under the category of a bad representation, this would indicate that there was no ugly intention and that the writers had good intentions. By having a show/character that follows the stereotypes of society this shows that they are following what they know and might not have known this was bad. Most people generally follow the stereotypes without even realizing that they are doing so and might not understand how this could affect other people and make themselves look ignorant. Also, based on that, this might have made them believe that they had created a character that was a good representation of paraplegics because they based him off the stereotypes that they are always surrounded by. If the writers had done some research, they would have come across many things/activities that they could put into the show to involve Artie in more things.
Canadian tire ad:
Although, the show ‘Glee’ was a bad representation of disabled people, the Canadian tire ad was not and there were many things about it that make it so. As said before this ad does not show anything on the lines of ableism or tokenism and there was more effort put into this ad to make it non-discriminatory in comparison to the ‘Glee’ character. There is also no stigma placed in this ad, the other kids don’t treat him:
“Categorically rather than individually” (stigma page 152).
The way that the other kids behave and treat the young boy is not how most of society might have handled that ‘situation’ and they don’t just assume that he can’t play because of his chair. Again, this also represents the social model because the other kids don’t define him by his disability. The social model argues that disability is created by how society reacts to people with an impairment, and in the case of this ad the kids don’t define him as being the kid in the wheelchair. They all do their best to look past that aspect of him. Therefore, this ad is not a bad representation because there are so many good elements in this ad that make it that good representation that the media needs to have more of.
Although this show was a bad representation of the disabled community, it was not an ugly representation. There are many factors that contribute to this idea of an ugly representation and this show doesn’t have those factors. The character has a purpose in the show in terms of him not just being a useless character, although he is not dominantly focused on, he is not ignored either. Artie is involved in several aspects of the show and does have some spotlight moments just like some of the other able body characters. The character is also not mocked for being in his chair and there is no direct insults of his condition and he is not attacked for comedic purpose. There is also no elements of dehumanization or humiliation featured in this show. For example, there was nothing on the lines of the time out rooms, which would have done both humiliate and dehumanize people. All the issues that were found in this show and directed at this specific character were simply just flawed and most of the issues were minor. I can confidently say that this show was not ugly. This would be the same for the Canadian tire ad, there was nothing that was featured in this ad that was malicious or extremely hurtful towards the young boy.
- Cameron, Colin. Disability Studies, A Student’s Guide: The Personal Tragedy Model. Cameron, C. (2014) Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE. pp. 116-119.
- Cameron, Colin. Disability Studies, A Student’s Guide: The Social Model. Cameron, C. (2014) Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE. pp. 137-143.
- Davis, J. Lennard. The Disability Studies Reader: Stigma: An Enigma Demystified. 4th edition. Routledge (2013). pp. 147-160
- Malacrida, Claudia. Discipline and Dehumanization in a Total Institution: Institutional Survivors’ Descriptions of Time-out Rooms. Titchkosky, T. and Michalko, R. (2009) pp. 181-195
- Rattray, Jay Tee. “That's Not How This Works: Glee's Artie Abrams.” Medium, Medium, 6 Feb. 2019, accessed Jan. 17 medium.com/@MsJayTeeRattray/thats-not-how-this-works-the-portrayal-of-artie-abrams-3dac3ec3fd87.
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