Looking at the representation of disability in the media it’s easy to identify common stereotypes.
Exhibition – This is where the media presents people with disabilities as different or unusual, documentaries like the tree man for example. Here disability is something to be viewed and observed; ‘difference’ is highlighted and made a spectacle. This representation puts disabled and non-disabled people in binary opposition when they are not.
Sympathy/pity – By far the most common representation in the media. People with disabilities are often shown to be deserving of pity when they face difficulties or prejudice. Charity appeals would often use this sort of representation but have moved away from it in recent years. TV dramas still use it as a short cut.
Fear – For a long time film makers have used scarring and disability as a short cut for evil. From Freddy Krueger’s burns to the Joker’s smile scars can be used to signify violence or anger.
Humour – An odd one but it’s definitely there. An extreme case of schadenfreude (pleasure in the misfortune of others, think about how funny someone else falling over is) this may seem politically incorrect but disability has been a source of humour since the Ancient Greeks. There are subtle differences to look out for; is the humour based on the disability like Family Guy’s Joe or is the humour despite the disability?
Admiration – This is where people with disabilities are put in a position of admiration that despite their disability they are achieving something. It can be very patronising, like praising a blind person for the way they can walk around town using a cane but at times it’s more genuine. Tanni Gray Thompson is a wheelchair athlete who dominated her sport, achieving more medals and records than any other British athlete. It’s also quite common to admire the attitude of people with disabilities which again can be quite patronising.