Introduction to Accessible Design in Media

Who Gets Represented and How? (Part One)

Image: Stacked vintage televisions


The first myth to debunk is that there is no disability representation in media (Dr. C. Jones, personal correspondence, October 21, 2016). In fact, we see disability often in broadcast media: in news stories on the radio, in ads between episodes of TV, and everywhere on digital content platforms. Sometimes the way disability is represented is authentic, and sometimes it is deeply flawed.

In this section, we will investigate what kinds of people with disabilities get represented in broadcast media and what the common representations are. We will use the 2016 Paralympic Games as an example.

Developing an Understanding:

The Paralympic Games is an event for world-class athletes with disabilities. Please watch the trailer for the Paralympic Games that took place in Rio in 2016.

illustration of gears in motion

Checking Your Understanding:

In the textbox provided, state some of the positive aspects of disability being portrayed in the video. When you are finished, you can press the "check" button to review the answer.

Please fill in the textarea.

    Right answer:

  • It promotes a sense of possibility and defiance against people and forces who tell people with disabilities that they can’t do certain things.
  • It represents a range of disability and talent.
  • It includes diversity in casting in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity.
  • It has a high production quality that surprises and entertains.

While the media promotion of the Paralympics can be incredibly inspiring, this video represents disability in only one way. The Paralympians are elite athletes. For many people with disabilities, the lack of accessibility can make everyday activities feel like a Paralympic event.