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  • Writer's picturePeta

Why is media representation important? Part one

One in five Australians have a disability so why aren't we represented in the media? This episode explains the importance of media representation that goes further than just highlighting disability issues but a fuller picture of what it is like to have and live with a disability.

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Episode transcript:

Peta [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to The I Can't Stand Podcast. The podcast, answering your questions on what life is like when you have a disability. My name is Peta and I'm your host. I had cerebral palsy and I love answering your questions. This week with such a good question, I've decided to divide it into two parts. So without any further ado, here is part one.

Peta [00:00:41] The question that was asked this week was, why is disability representation in the media important? So, of course, the role of the media is to educate and disseminate information. Whether that be for educational purposes or entertainment purposes. It's important to remember how the media can deeply influence public opinion. And in some ways, it determines what is societally accepted as normal.

[00:01:19] When people with disabilities are featured in the media, at the moment, we haven't been able to move away from just because we have a disability, it is often because we are speaking on a disability issue or talking about disability. This, of course, is quite limiting because that, again, is defining as wholly as disabled and nothing else. People watching or consuming the media aren't getting a true picture of what it's like to have a disability. Even today, the idea of having a person with a disability on a radio breakfast show or on a TV show, whether that be on a reality show or a soap opera or even on the news as a news anchor is almost unheard of, still today.

[00:02:19] Without truly representing what our lives are like, stereotypes and frankly, discrimination will continue on. The only way for people to understand our perspective is for them to be presented with a perspective. For them to have the ability to consume our perspective, whether that be actively, like you guys now, downloading this podcast or passively when they turn on the TV. It is super important because, without representation, society as a whole is not being reflected. We, therefore, again, are being forgotten, being pushed aside, being put in that box and being othered. I don't see why people with disabilities can't be part of the media. Whether that be behind the camera, as I said, offering new perspectives and producing shows that appeal to everyone, including people with disabilities or in front of the camera using their voice and their unique perspective. One in five Australians have a disability, so when you think about the media that you consume, is that percentage of the population reflected in the media? To me, it really isn't.

[00:03:52] We're the largest minority in Australia, and we're really yet to be seen. Well, yes, there has been some improvement. You might see people with disabilities using their voice on certain issues, on certain programmes or promoting their book or their work. It is important to raise awareness that we people with disabilities do exist in the community. To reduce that stigma and also misinformation and misunderstanding. There are so many misconceptions about living with a disability. And it shouldn't be this difficult to allow people to learn. Why can't people just turn on the TV and see someone who has a disability living their life?

[00:04:50] All my favourite TV shows, really, none of them have somebody with a disability in them or at least anyone that identifies as having a disability. Of course, some disabilities are invisible and some people are uncomfortable in identifying themselves as disabled. That is totally fine. But as far as media representation, it would be fantastic to watch people and consume media that look like me. A lot of stuff about disability is really hard to consume, and hard work. Documentaries are great, but you're not going to turn one on or you're very unlikely to if you've had a hard day at work. You might want to turn on Love Island or MasterChef or a home renovation show. So why can't those shows themselves also have people with disabilities? You only have to look at people who used to be on Married At First Sight and the number of followers that they have on Instagram now. People feel connected to them. They feel that they know them. How powerful would that be for somebody with a disability, for the community as a whole to see a person with a disability as a whole person, not just someone to pity?

[00:06:23] I found a survey which is quite old, it was done in 2011. However, I still think the statistic is important, from an American perspective. In 2011, only one per cent of characters on television were presented as disabled. One per cent. No wonder people think we don't exist because we literally don't exist in popular culture. It must be said when people with disabilities are represented, a lot of the time they are white. Which as a white woman, you know, I can't deny my privilege. And a lot of the time they're male. And just like every minority, we're very diverse. Disability can happen to everyone, so we are of all different genders, all different races, all different religions, it is and can be anyone.

[00:07:34] I really wanted to release this episode around the time the Paralympics was about to start because the Paralympics is by far the most media representation that my community will get. Or has done in the past. The narrative of being superhuman and being a Paralympian is the only narrative that is a positive one in mainstream media. So as you're cheering on all the amazing athletes, also, think about that there are also people with disabilities watching this too, that aren't athletes. Some of us are doctors and lawyers and artists and writers and podcasters and influences and models and actors. It is so great that the mainstream media do broadcast the Paralympics. Because it's such an important narrative that just because you have a disability doesn't mean you can't achieve. It is my hope, though, that with increased media coverage and representation, society will realise that there are more options of living a life with a disability than being a Paralympian. Some of us are really funny. I mean, think about how great a reality show would be. Of someone with a disability. People are fascinated to know how I get out of bed every day. To sort of illustrate just the day to day life of disability, I think would be really interesting. And I believe Australia would watch it.

[00:09:33] In my opinion, the media has a massive opportunity sitting right in front of them on a platter. We are really good content and not because of our disability, but because of our personalities. So many of us love our lives, are funny, intelligent and want to educate people. I hope, for my children's generation or my grandchildren's generation, it will be a no brainer. To illustrate the diversity in our community. That it will only be seen as a positive and opportunity and just better content for consumers. Because I do believe media is the key to moving the needle towards less discrimination. Less ableism and ultimately; equality.

[00:10:38] I hope you enjoyed the first part of why representation in the media for people with disabilities is so important. I look forward to next week if you did enjoy this episode, but can I encourage you to write and review on whatever podcast platform is being on or shared on social media? I really do appreciate everyone's support until next week bye.


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