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Culture, Disability & Television


Culture surrounds us in every aspect of our daily lives and has a direct effect on our values, beliefs and interactions with others (Peters 2005). Its value, however, is not simply as a record of what is the expected norm in a given society (Markus & Kityama 1991), but also as a form of expression for human thought and imagination. This paper starts with an overview of the multiple meanings of culture and the various forms in which it may be manifested through cultural representations. It then proceeds to give a brief historical background on the expected roles of people with disabilities within society and how the importance of making the ‘voice’ of people with disabilities heard is conveyed through art and culture, including the Disability Arts Movement. In the paper, it is also argued that although Disability Arts aim to challenge the norms in society and create change, they only reach a select and limited audience. Thus, the paper questions whether more mainstream cultural forms can be used as a tool in giving a more accurate depiction of disability to a larger audience within society. Using current, mainstream English and American television programs, this paper explores whether modern day television programmes are including positive representation of disability, or whether negative stereotypes are still more prevalent. A distinction is made between the presence of people with disabilities in reality series’ and the roles ascribed to disabled characters in fictional television serials and both forms are therefore discussed separately accordingly. The paper also covers the issue of crip drag, and its significance to disability activism, but also questions the notion of what is most offensive- a non-disabled actor playing a disabled character, or a disabled actor who states that he sympathises with people suffering from more severe forms of impairment. In conclusion, I’ve noted that although there is an increase in the presence of people with disabilities in everyday mainstream television, they are still saturated with stereotypes, and only a higher number of people with disabilities in front of and behind the camera can use television as a powerful medium in projecting a positive portrayal.

Keywords: Disability, culture, television, TV, crip, crip drag, activism, disabled character, mainstream, positive portrayal




Read this unique perspective on Culture, Disability and Television. Elvira writes from a Maltese viewpoint addressing the values and interactions affected by what we consider culture to be. This paper touches on issues of crip drag. activism and how the voice of disabled people is conveyed through art and culture.

Keywords: Disability, culture, television, TV, crip, crip drag, activism, disabled character, mainstream, positive portrayal

This online release forms part of the special issue, ‘Disability and the Problems of Representation’.

DOI: 10.17774/CDJ12014.1.20575874


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about the author


Elvira Psaila is based in Attard, Europe.

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