The Importance of Disability Representation in Media

With Sia’s movie Music coming out recently, it has sparked a long overdue conversation about disability and how it’s grossly misrepresented in the media. The movie stars a non-autistic actress who was coerced into portraying the role of an autistic child who embodies all the harmful stereotypes of a person with autism, such as exaggerated facial expressions and having meltdowns that result in the Lethal Prone Restraint. Sia did not consult any actual autistic person for this movie and actually worked with Autism Speaks which is an ‘advocacy organization’ that many people of the Autism Community do not support or affiliate themselves with due to many scandals and anti-autistic sentiments the organization holds. 

Headphones Photo by C D-X from Unsplash Harmful movies like Music are made all the time and are advertised as feel-good inspirational forms of media. In reality these are not feel-good or inspirational to the neurodivergent and disabled community since they perpetuate characters and themes that encourage ableism and misrepresentation. This is why disability representation is so important. Disabled and neurodivergent people should not only be seen as victims, heroes and villains in the media. Just like anyone else, they deserve to have characters they can actually relate to and are dynamic. As a young disabled woman myself, I grew up feeling misrepresented in the media and this caused people to treat me differently too since their only exposure to disabled people was through the very few characters on TV that were written with stereotypes and not even played by a disabled person. 

netflix streaming on laptop Photo by Charles Deluvio from Unsplash Although there are many misrepresentations, there are also some really good representations. A character I looked up to growing up was Toph from Avatar the Last Airbender. She is a talented earth bender who helps save the world and also happens to be blind. She is a dynamic character and although being blind is a part of her identity, she was still given characteristics that did not solely revolve around or rely on her disability. She was the comedic relief and also a badass who was an extremely skilled earth bender. Her skills weren't used to make up for the fact that she was blind, but rather to show that strength can be found in the most unconventional ways.

spray painted words on electrical box Photo by Maria Thalassinou from Unsplash Fortunately, the media is finally starting to catch up and realize that they need to do the largest minority group, people with disabilities, some justice. According to Easterseals, 15% of the world population lives with a diagnosed disability so there is no excuse for it to be represented so poorly when there are so many disabled actors out there and so many resources that inform people about disability and ableism. I hope now with social media people will start listening to disabled voices and let us dictate how we want to be represented. Just like able bodied characters, disabled characters deserve to be dynamic, have problems that aren't their disabilities, have passions and have love interests. Disabled people are not tropes or accessories, they’re actual people who can benefit or be harmed depending on what the media decides to depict them as.