Defying Stereotypes: The Way Forward

"Disabled people should be shown as an ordinary part of life in all forms of representation, not as stereotypes or invisible."

This was the verdict of 150 key image-makers at the Invisible Children Conference 1995.

In films, disabled people rarely have a character other than as defined by variations of the stereotypes above. The following guidelines have been offered by disabled people as a starting point for portraying them in a non-stereotyped way.

  1. Shun one-dimensional characterisations. Portray disabled people as having complex personalities capable of a full range of emotions.

  2. Avoid depicting us as always receiving. Show us as equals, giving as well as receiving.

  3. Avoid presenting physical and mental characteristics as determining personality.

  4. Refrain from depicting us as objects of curiosity. Make us ordinary. Our impairments should not be ridiculed or made the butt of jokes.

  5. Avoid sensationalising us, especially as victims or perpetrators of violence.

  6. Refrain from endowing us with superhuman attributes.

  7. Avoid Pollyanna-ish plots that make our attitude the problem. Show the barriers we face in society that keep us from living full lives.

  8. Avoid showing disabled people as non-sexual. Show us in loving relationships and expressing the same range of sexual needs and desires as non-disabled people.

  9. Show us as an ordinary part of life in all forms of representation.

  10. Most importantly, cast us, train us and write us into your scripts, programmes and publications.

(From a leaflet that was produced by R. Rieser for the 1 in 8 Group, formed after the Invisible Children Conference, 1995. Several individuals in the media committed to challenging the portrayal and employment of disabled people.)