GADIM co-founder Beth Haller at the Lionsgate Studio in Santa Monica, Calif.
In 2020, GADIM became part of the Ambassadors Program at the US-based Lionsgate film studio to help them with better disability representation in film.
In January 2020, Beth Haller, one of the co-founders of GADIM, gave a presentation to the Lionsgate Motion Picture Group about achieving more authentic disability portrayals in films.
GADIM is working with Lionsgate by giving them feedback on scripts and screening films with disability content. The movie studio has made a commitment to more inclusion of diverse characters in its films, including disability.
THE GLOBAL ALLIANCE FOR DISABILITY IN MEDIA AND ENTERTAINMENT (GADIM) was established in 2016 to mark the 10th Anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), in recognition that the media has the potential to play a pivotal role in supporting human rights and eliminating barriers that diminish those rights.
GADIM's founding coincided with one of the most visible events for people with disabilities in the world - the Paralympic Games Rio 2016.
The Games have provided unprecedented media coverage of the sporting achievements of people with disabilities and some of the discussion around the Games has provided excellent opportunity to challenge that way people with disabilities are perceived by society.
But is talking about people with disabilities enough to stimulate the change that we need? Doesn't it help simply to become more "visible"? The nature of the portrayal of people with disability and their relationship with the world around them is equally critical to the frequency of portrayal.
Words can educate and open minds - or they can reinforce stereotypes and perpetuate prejudice.
Have you heard of ableism?
Ableism is to disability what racism is to race and what sexism is to gender. It is a form of societal prejudice experienced by people with disabilities that results in marginalization and discrimination. Ableist perspectives of disability can be reflected in media in many ways. For example, when disabled people are cast of objects of pity, burdens on their families and on society; when disability is framed as human "defect" to be "cured" or overcome, rather than a manifestation of human "diversity" that should be accommodated by a society that welcomes all.
So, if you are writing or reporting about a person with a disability, how do you frame your story so that it avoids the limiting cliches and stereotypes and meets sound and practice for reporting about people with disabilities?
- Start by putting the person with disabilities at the centre of the story. This means trying to capture their perspective on themselves and their lives, as opposed to your assumptions about what it may be like to be them. You should also ask them about any "preferred language" and how they wish to identify. Most people with disabilities disliked being referred to as "special", "differently abled", "challenged" and "handicapped" for example. But they may have a strong preference and valid reasons about whether to be referred to as a "person with a disability" or a "disabled person", or an "Autistic person" or "person with Autism" - ask and respect their preference.
- Do not use disability "slurs" or disability as a casual insult or put-down. For example, calling a person "blind" because they failed to observe something or "deaf" for being inattentive are negative ways to use that language. Words like "retarded" are highly offensive and hurtful.
- What message does background music convey? If you are using sentimental musical to "tug at the heart" strings, will that suggest to your viewers that disability is something to feel sad about? Consider instead a more dynamic track, or, if in doubt, no sound.
- Avoid sensationalization and diminishing language.
Describing people using words like "suffers from", "is a victim of", "is afflicted with" is disempowering and contributes to their portrayal as helpless, objects of pity. This language is more likely to reflect prejudiced assumptions about what it is like to have a disability than the reality of the lives of the people you are describing.
- When interviewing, always engage with and listen to the person with disabilities first, not her/his companion. Preferably, talk to her/him before recording the interview. Ask how to best proceed. Where this is not possible because of a communication, intellectual or other disability, seek to ensure that the person's companion is facilitating engagement with the person they are supporting rather than expressing their own personal view.
"Nothing About Without Us"
This phrase, also used by Simi Linton, activist and author of My Body Politic, has become the central theme for the disability rights movement to communicate the idea that no decision should be made by any representative without the full and direct participation of members of the group affected. This idea is reflected in GADIM's approach to the representation of people with disability in media and entertainment - direct participation by people with disabilities to convey their messages through media is critical.
GADIM is a global project to leverage all media, culture, entertainment to promote the rights and inclusion of people with disabilities. The project’s main goal is to improve the portrayal of disability in mass media.
GADIM invites all media organs and industry participants – news, entertainment, advertising, etc. – to increase the representation and authentic portrayal of people with disabilities in all areas. Contact GADIM if you want to join our efforts and be part of this network.
PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES = LARGEST MINORITY
There are more than one billion people with disabilities worldwide (1), approximately 11% of the population, forming the largest global minority. More than 80% of disabled people live in developing countries (2).
INVISIBILITY IN MEDIA, CULTURE AND ENTERTAINMENT
Yet, people with disabilities are almost invisible in media, advertising, cultural and entertainment productions. According to GLADD’s “Where we are on TV” report (3), that monitors the content in US TV, in 2015 characters with disabilities were represented in less than 1% of entertainment productions.
Recently, the Ruderman Foundation published a report that found that 95% of characters with disabilities on American TV are played by non-disabled actors (4).
There is still no specific data about the numbers of people with disabilities present in news stories in any country, but research has found that, when they appear, people with disabilities are shown with an ableist(5) look, perpetuating a long lasting stigma.
Stereotypical depictions of people with disability are normalized through repetition in different cultural contexts such as literature, film, television and other media. Therese stereotypes in media are often called "tropes" and they have an influence on how society thinks about people with disabilities.
Some common stereotypes are the portrayal of people with disability as "objects of pity", burdens" on their families and society, or "super heroes" (or "supercrips"). Some of these stereotypes are commonly perceived as positive, such as when the media portray supposedly amazing or “inspirational” personal stories of individuals who have struggled to “overcome” disability to reach their dreams. However, these portrayals tend to patronize or objectify people with disabilities and arguably do more harm than good. In some cases the media narratives portrays people with disability as “inspirational heroes” simply for doing everyday things, like going to school, taking the bus or using a computer at work. The late activist Stella Young coined the term “inspiration porn”(5) as a provocative way to highlight the fact that the main purpose of such portrayals is to make non-disabled people “feel good” about themselves – for not having a disability.
GADIM invites all media organizations – news, entertainment, advertising, etc. - to commit to increase the representation and authentic portrayal of people with disabilities in all areas. Whether they are public or private media endeavors, they should work toward authentic representation of disability in collaboration with disabled people and their allies.
GADIM aims to bring together organizations at local, national, regional and international levels, experts on disability issues, disability studies scholars and students, and individual advocates who are aligned with the values of GADIM to:
support our shared a mission of promoting human rights in general and specifically the rights of people with disability; and
work collaboratively towards that mission by adopting a joint strategy for use of the media, in particular the mainstream media, as a tool to shape cultural attitudes and perspectives in accordance with their shared mission and values.
The success of such an initiative will depend on the involvement of networks of people with disabilities and media at all levels to promote GADIM’s work and message. As such, it will be important to identify not only active participants in GADIM but also partners (including those in mass media and other areas outside the disability sector) that can assist with achieving its mission.
At the same time, GADIM will work to empower people with disabilities and their allies by providing them with tools to advocate for their rights as recognized in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
Example of some potential actions include:
actively search for and invite media industry companies to commit to increase representation of people with disability in all areas of mass media; and
actively engage media creation companies to adopt policies that recognize the value of diversity and are inclusive of people with disabilities.
Invite partners from print, broadcast and online news sources to bring to their audiences powerful stories from the disability community that represents the community authentically and encourages respect for their rights;
Make news organizations aware of disability issues and disability sources
Contact newsrooms to speak about importance of appropriate language in referring to people with disability;
Challenge - News media are private businesses that are under- staffed these days.
Establish a local, national and international database of persons with disabilities as sources (for interviews, talkshows, etc) on relevant disability related subject-matter; and (This initiative has been tried in the USA in the 1990s:
Provide an online course on communication on disability issues, addressing preferred language and encouraging a high standard in creating disability content in media. (Course created by Beth Haller for disability advocates: https://disabilitymediaadvocacy.wordpress.com/
Provide content and curriculum about disability for journalism schools, film schools, acting programs, TV media programs, and general media education programs at colleges and universities. (Shawn Burns is working on this for journalism students.)
Invite partners from advertising agencies, models and actors agencies, photographers, to bring people with disabilities to ads, film, theater and TV that encourage inclusion and recognition of rights;
Inclusive ads - contacting governments, companies advertising and actors and models agencies, to suggest the portrayal of people with disabilities in ads in an inclusive manner; and
Contacting companies to invite them to include models with disabilities in their media campaigns.
Bring characters with disabilities into all kinds of entertainment media;
Work with actor's agencies and studios to make sure actors with disabilities are hired to play parts of characters with disabilities; Ex: http://inclusioninthearts.org/ and
Work with writers, producers and studios to ensure accurate and diverse representations of persons with disabilities on the big and small screens. Ex: http://www.dsiam.org/
TV AND CINEMA
TV and Film - Contact TV channel and film/video authors and producers to suggest the inclusion of characters with disabilities in ads and movies in an inclusive manner.
actor’s, writer’s, director’s, producer’s associations and unions
Invite partners from the media industry to hire and bring people stories from persons' with disabilities community that build support for equality.
- Advocate for accessible content in all forms of media and entertainment. Alternative formats include but are not limited to: large print, Braille, audio description, audio transcript, captioned video, sign language, plain language and simpler language. ;
- Promote discussions on its importance and ways to making information accessible; and
- The content provided by GADIM will comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 as published by the World Wide Web Consortium.
Our members and collaborators may be available to advise on about language and content to ensure appropriate portrayal of persons with disabilities.
- Produce quantitative and qualitative statistics and indicators about the presence of persons with disabilities in media and entertainment, in collaboration with academy. (Disability Indicators for Media Report, as GLAAD’s - Where are we on TV Guide);
- When news outlets, film or ads get it wrong, respond and advocate for fairness and accuracy.
COMMUNICATIONS AND DIGITAL STRATEGY
We are seeking to establish a communications "hub" for disability in media, providing support and tools to disability advocates endeavouring to communicate more effectively through the media.
We will use social media to promote the rights of persons with disabilities, to educated about media representation of disability and to amplify the voices of disability advocates.
We will seek to engage with media organs to encourage the inclusion and appropriate portrayal of disability in news stories, films, ads, in established media awards (internationally, regionally, nationally, locally). Ex: http://ncdj.org/contest/
A number of media guides exist around the world to assist media with appropriate portrayal of persons with disabilities in media and entertainment (Code of conduct). While these Guides may be useful, they are not all consistent in relation to use of preferred language.
The most important principle is that persons with disabilities have the right to choose how they wish to self identify and should be consulted about any "preferred language" and how they wish to identify. Most people with disabilities disliked being referred to as "special", "differently abled", "challenged" and "handicapped" for example. But they may have a strong preference and valid reasons about whether to be referred to as a "person with a disability" or a "disabled person", or an "Autistic person" or "person with Autism" - ask and respect their preference.
Examples of Media Guides
From the USA:
- Work in cooperation/collaboration with human rights organizations and other initiatives like GLAAD and GAMAG (see below); and
- Follow, promote and engage with engage with news outlets and agencies that cover disabilities, bloggers with disabilities, groups in social media on disabilities, scholars on disability studies, experts on disabilities
MODELS THAT INSPIRE US
GAMAG - Global Alliance on Media and Gender - (UNESCO/UN Women)
A global movement to promote gender equality in and through media.
UN Media Compact
More than 35 leading media outlets commit to increase women’s representation in the newsroom and in news content
CDN - CREATIVE DIVERSITY NETWORK
The Creative Diversity Network is a forum, paid for by its member bodies. Its role is to bring together organisations, who employ and/or make programmes across the UK television industry to promote, celebrate and share good practice around the diversity agenda. Current members of the CDN are BAFTA, BBC, Channel 4, Channel 5/Viacom, Creative Skillset, PACT, ITN, ITV, Media Trust, S4C, Sky and Turner Broadcasting. Together they seek to engage and empower the industry to drive change, and understand the business case for wider representation and inclusion.
In 2016 CDN is launching the Diamong initiative, to answer two questions: "Who's on TV"and "Who makes TV". Diamond will be a consistent and comprehensive to monitor and report diversity in a way that has never been achieved before.
Non-governmental media monitoring organization founded by LGBT people in the media. Glaad publishes the report "Where are we on TV”, every year, with numbers of representation of minorities (they started counting persons with disabilities 6 years ago)
KNOW ANY OTHER INITIATIVES? TELL US ABOUT IT!
CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
ARTICLE 8 “AWARENESS RAISING”
1. States Parties undertake to adopt immediate, effective and appropriate measures:
a To raise awareness throughout society, including at the family level, regarding persons with disabilities, and to foster respect for the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities;
b To combat stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practices relating to persons with disabilities, including those based on sex and age, in all areas of life;
c To promote awareness of the capabilities and contributions of persons with disabilities.
Measures to this end include:
a. Initiating and maintaining effective public awareness campaigns designed:
i. To nurture receptiveness to the rights of persons with disabilities;
ii. To promote positive perceptions and greater social awareness towards persons with disabilities;
iii. To promote recognition of the skills, merits and abilities of persons with disabilities, and of their contributions to the workplace and the labour market;
b. Fostering at all levels of the education system, including in all children from an early age, an attitude of respect for the rights of persons with disabilities;
c. Encouraging all organs of the media to portray persons with disabilities in a manner consistent with the purpose of the present Convention;
d. Promoting awareness-training programs regarding persons with disabilities and the rights of persons with disabilities.
Where we are on TV?- http://www.glaad.org/whereweareontv15
Examples of inclusive ads:
Pepsi Superbowl ad - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffrq6cUoE5A
Swiffer ad -