Title: ‘Better dead than disabled’How cultural and social attitudes have shaped representation of disability.


In 2016, disabled people still face many challenges in everyday life. One of the biggest, ongoing challenges disabled people constantly face is the attitude from a non-disabled society towards disability. But do these often-negative attitudes stem from Media representation or do they come from lack of knowledge and understanding?

Cultural behaviors show how an individual can relate to another person or a surrounding. Power and the ‘mass Media’ are closely related in today’s society. The increase in technology has changed the way people communicate with one another, as individuals, as groups and as communities. Technology has greatly affected the social patterns of people and the way we see things. It has changed the way we interact and has made censorship almost impossible, as almost any image is available to us with the click of a button. The media, whether it is TV, Internet, newspapers or film, is a major contributor to the cultural forms within society.

But why are some disabilities more accepted than others? Why are disabilities caused as a result of war more socially acceptable than a person born with disabilities? A person of war is often seen as heroic yet a person born with a deformed or with a congenital amputee limb is seen as a ‘reject’?

It is shocking in this era to see how disabled individuals also face barriers on transport, in education, leisure activities and public services due to the attitudes of society.Disability is often oppressed and hidden and in this era, is it safe to say disability acceptance is behind with the times?


This study will try to uncover why society has trouble accepting disability and help develop an understanding of how social views and culture change and evolve. Understanding how society’s attitudes are easily led by the power of the Media will help analyse how attitudes can just as easily be changed. This study will be useful in my future career in helping me keep an open mind in regards to disability and help me to avoid segregating or excluding disabled people due to lack of knowledge and understanding.

Aims and Objectives:

The aim of the study is to:

  • Develop an understanding of how Mass Media is used to shape society’s views, both positive and negative, of disabled individuals.
  • Explore the differences in disability acceptance in film between Europe and the rest of the world.
  • Explore the ‘Monster’ effect disability has in society.
  • Investigate how disabled characters in films were/are used as characters of pity or for comedic value.
  • Reflect on popular culture and social attitudes towards disability over the past 60 years and how they have changed with the introduction of the Internet.
  • Compare and discuss circumstances in which disabled individuals with an amputee are more socially accepted as the face of disability. (Congenital amputees Vs. amputation. – War Vs. Birth)
  • Evaluate how acceptance and perception of disability has changed over the past 60 years thus changing the way disability is represented and/or censored.


Development of Theoretical Ideas/Practitioners and Theorists/Primary Sources:

 This study will include words from numerous practitioners and theorists in order to create a strong, valid argument and understanding relating to cultural and social attitudes towards disabled people and whether these attitudes reflect how disabled people are represented in different Media forms. The use of studies and surveys from BFI and SCOPE will enable true statistics to be used to back up any findings to construct a valid argument. Theorist Erving Goffman, who is known for his study and analysis of everyday human interactions, will be useful to give a different view on society and their actions. Looking at theorist Michael Foucault and his findings on the link between knowledge and power will be useful in discussing how powerful the ‘Mass Media’ or people in power are when it comes to representing disabled people and how society ‘follow’ them thus shaping their views and attitudes towards the disabled. Foucault has a lot to say about power and his ideas can produce a debate about how power might be exercised in and through the mass media. Quotes from Paul Longmore, a Polio victim and Disability activist will give me a critical view of both negative and positive views of disability representation.

To look at different representations of disability in the Media, this study will also look at photographers Bryan Adams and Giles Duley, who both took an interest in photographing wounded soldiers. Duley is an ex soldier wounded in combat. This will be useful in looking at how different disability is perceived and why a wounded soldier is more accepted than a person born with a congenital amputee.

This year’s (2016) Paralympics in London did an extraordinary amount to change attitudes to disabled people and this will help show an understanding of how attitudes towards disability have changed in more recent times. Events such as The Paralympic games will provide an insight into how disability is or is not becoming more and more accepted in today’s society and will show how attitudes may or may not be changing.

Looking at all the above will form a good base to construct and analyse an investigation against the social and cultural attitudes towards disability.

Research Material/Reading list:

Skal. D. J. (1993) The Monster Show – A cultural History of Horror (Revised Edition)

Ellis. K. (2008) – Disabling Diversity: The Social Construction of Disability in 1990s

Hall. S. (1999) Representation

 Faubion. J.D. (2002) Power: The Essential Works of Michel Foucault 1954-1984:

http://www.bfi.org.uk/sites/bfi.org.uk/files/downloads/bfi-opening-our-eyes-2011-07_0.pdf – July 2011 (BFI survey on attitudes to film)

https://www.indy100.com/article/these-14-moving-photos-of-wounded-soldiers-were-all-taken-by-bryan-adams–ekVtINzZDx – Brian Adams ‘Wounded’

http://gilesduley.com – Giles Duley – disabled (ex soldier) photographer

http://dsq-sds.org/article/view/3197/3068 – Attitudes towards disability over time – 2012

http://www.scope.org.uk/Scope/media/Images/Publication%20Directory/Current-attitudes-towards-disabled-people.pdf?ext=.pdf – Scope 2014

http://paralympics.channel4.com – Channel 4 Paralympics