The Layers Of Social Strata Within Disability

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Mass Media plays a complex and dual role in both perpetuating and altering public perceptions of disability. Avenues in which we see public portrayals of intellectual, emotional, linguistic, age and physical impairments include television, radio, film, literature and various social media platforms. The utilization of media can either reinforce or challenge stereotypes that are widely accepted in western society. The layers of social strata within disability can be intersectional with gender, race, age and social class issues. This paper will examine attitudes about disability as a whole within the framework of North American society and media, as well as the meanings attached to the experience of being disabled.
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Media and the Metaphor of Disability
There are prominent themes represented in mass media that characterize people with impairments. One such theme is the metaphorical use of disability in children’s stories and films. Frequently the arc of a story relies on assigning physical deformities to villains, and portraying the hero or heroine as attractive and loved. Rarely will a disabled character have a pivotal role; most commonly they are relegated to secondary status, used as plot device to garner sympathy for a maudlin character to be saved by the hero, or to have the hero triumph over the reviled villain. The use of pity or repulsion with regards to disabled characters mirrors the sense of otherness society imposes in real life.
Gender Stratification as a Sexualized Body
Disparities in gender hierarchies play out even within media images of disabilities; people with disabilities are frequently, and incorrectly, perceived to be asexual (Anderson & Kitchin 2000); this stigma is more often associated to women. Societal norms dictate that women should conform to ideals of the sexual body, creating commodity of worth based on physical attributes. Much of women’s identity within society is framed around body image and procreation (Anderson & Kitchin, 2000), adding a disability to the mix interrupts this fragile construction of identity. The mainstream acceptance of cosmetic surgery to “fix” faults and increase attractiveness further signifies the devaluation of

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