It is generally assumed that cultural and media imagery has a powerful if not direct effect on the audience, although there is continuing debate about the nature and extent of the media’s role in circulating specific views, including disabling messages. There is a strong presumption that over the past decades, false or negative stereotypes about disability and people with disability have been reinforced through the media.
Since the 1970s, there has been growing scholarly interest in media representations of disability. Mitchell and Snider (2001), for instance, noted the existence of dehumanising representations of disabled people as monsters, freaks, madmen, suffering innocents, hysterics, and beggars. People with disability were most often portrayed as:
- Deviant persons.
- Someone with superhuman characteristics, such as the Bionic Man or Ironside (the paraplegic lawyer with a brilliant mind)
- An inspirational sweet innocent
Such false or negative representations have predominated until recently, since the conditions under which the image is produced and interpreted are outside the control of people with disability, rather involve wider meanings and power relationships.