There is a definite lack of representation of people with disabilities in the media, in particular when it comes to mainstream media such as radio and TV.
I am a strong advocate for people with disabilities in Ireland.
Physical changes that occur after an SCI combined with trying to establish a new role in society means it can be tempting to compare ourselves with what we see in the media.
Just representation is needed to change the public’s idea of what it means to be talented, hardworking, attractive and also have a disability.
I met with two ladies in Oceanfm studios that have failed to let their respective disabilities prevent them from leading life to the full.
Sarah Cregg was born with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair. She is also one of Connacht’s top wheelchair hurling players. She comes from a sports mad family where here brothers Cathal and Finbar both played for Roscommon.
Sarah is familiar with mixing it with royalty after having had an audience with Price Harry and his wife Meghan in Croke Park.
I am also joined by Jenna Fitzgerald from Enniscrone. An ill-fated dive into a swimming pool in Spain six years ago changed Jenna’s life for ever.
A shattered C5 injury from the accident resulted in her sustaining life changing injuries after being paralysed below the chest.
Since that life changing event Jenna has adopted a positive attitude and has attempted to establish a new independent life as possible.
We started the discussion by looking at the way the media portray disability and how media can help increase awareness throughout society about the realities faced by disabled persons.
It can also reduce stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practices whilst promoting awareness of those with disabilities capabilities and contributions.
I began writing at first for therapeutic reasons and later I set up an online community for people who have spinal cord injuries – writing about my struggles and supporting others going through the same. This subsequently has opened up several avenues for me.
I have had many of my blogs published by the Irish newspapers – Irish Time , the independent, Sligo champion, a columnist for the Sligo Weekender.
In my opinion, people with disabilities are not well represented in the media.
With disability, the representation is still woefully inadequate and just as we are no less competent, our body types are no less deserving than our fully functioning peers!!! Unfortunately, a lack of visibility and affirmation of disabled individuals in the media and among those in power creates even more unnecessary misery. This deficit guides people into thinking that disabled people can’t be powerful, sexy or in control.
Moreover, visibility influences feelings and if disabled people are only portrayed as weak and sickly, it becomes difficult for a viewer to see them in a positive light. They are often stigmatized or stereotyped, and may appear as either objects of pity or super heroic accomplishment.
Is it that unfortunately in society today, disability is still deemed undesirable, and disabled people are frequently looked upon as hard work and less sexy in general than their nondisabled peers?
Should we (Society) in order to ensure that all body types know they are valuable, we must begin at the core of what is influencing the wider public or we might start to compare ourselves to media image ideals that are frequently airbrushed and not realistic??
Let’s face it, everyone (even the most perfect-seeming celeb) has things that they can’t change and need to accept about themselves .
Deserving representation that stands alone is a must. Being exposed to more disabled people on public platforms and not shielding them away is at the foundation of how we can alter misconceptions about disabilities and negative body images.
Some people with physical disabilities or differences may feel they are not seen for their true selves because of their bodies and what they can and can’t do. A negative self image feeds into low self-esteem and how much you feel you are worth and valued; A downhill spiral of depression and addiction can ensue.
One of the hardest things for me to cope with when I first became a wheelchair user was my change in body image. I had always been a very athletic, health conscious person and I struggled with how I viewed my new physical self. I think that personal body image has a very important social value for women, with many females being particularly vulnerable to perceptions of their body and physical appearance.
There are few tv shows that include appropriate sources of local and national help or support at the end of an article or a programme to help ensure that people with disabilities and their families get the information they need, as well as facts about improvements in national policies and programmes.
One such show; the fitting room discusses dressing for all body types. Fashion’s impact reverberates through our society, which is why it is so important that it celebrates diversity and champions inclusivity. Fashion has the power to shift attitudes and change perceptions, and we should not underestimate its influence.
Embedding diversity and inclusivity, particularly with regards to disabled people, would help push the fashion and retail industry to be even more creative, more innovative, more radical and more forward-thinking.
In 2020, you’d expect social attitudes to be evolving, that the benefits of having a diverse society apparent but in truth a much more refined approach to disability in our society is paramount.
We need to promote the message that people with disabilities are present in every community around the globe. They have the same range of emotions, interests, talents, skills and behaviour as the rest of the population and should be portrayed as having the same complexity of personality and experience as other people of similar age and situation.