Is there a decline in the media representation of disability?

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Trailblazer, Kai Gill, blogs about the representation of disabled people in the media.

My name is Kai Gill and I’m 21 years old living with Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy Type 2D. Since the age of 13, after being diagnosed, I have noticed a decline in the representation of disability in the media. 

The lasting legacy of promoting disability sports seems to increase only when the Paralympics are coming up. There has always been one particular TV channel that has stuck to their word of promoting disability through lifestyle documentaries and sporting events – Channel 4.

However, it was certainly surprising when they commissioned a new series of The Undateables. This is something that I strongly disagree with. If you haven’t watched the series, it’s about disabled people dating each other. The title of the program certainly got the public viewers speaking about it due to the negative connotations you perceive with the term ‘Undateables’.

This year I wrote my dissertation about the representation of disability in the media and I argued in my conclusion that if the media represented disability in a better positive light, society would accept us more. We’re lucky with the advanced media we have today that the minute we encounter a problem in society with access to buildings, we can share these on social media, enabling us to speak to new people.

On a positive note, since the launch of The Last Leg on Channel 4, it has enabled disabled people to feel comfortable talking to members of the public about their disability, even having a laugh about it.

The appearance of BBC Three’s disability series last year, called Defying the Label, seemed to be popular due to the individual documentaries covering a wide range of topics about disability. However, after two weeks it stopped and there was nothing in the news about BBC Three doing more of these series.

It seems Channel 4 have set a level of promoting disability and other competitive channels are trying to reach to the remaining legacy but haven’t achieved this. Why? It’s difficult to answer but perhaps it’s because the producers aren’t willing to research more into disability in terms of asking disabled people what they would like a documentary topic to be about.

I’ve recently finished a journalism and digital media degree. It was the best decision I made signing up to this degree. Three years ago I was only thinking about studying a degree. But after watching the disabled journalists reporting on London 2012 it inspired me to study journalism.

Throughout the three years I established a disability sports magazine called Parahey Magazine, reporting on areas of the north-east of England.

I play powerchair football in the National League Championship for East Riding Electric Eels, meaning I travel quite a bit but this helped with some of my assignments as part of my final year work.

If you’re thinking about studying a media degree, my advice is to go ahead and do it – you will make friends for life and find the real you. Don’t let anyone stop you from achieving your dreams. 

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