Today at Glamorgan County Cricket Club and online, Disability Wales hosts a sold-out national conference on the representation and portrayal of disabled people in the media. Sponsored by S4C, the conference explores the representation of disabled people across print and digital media, drawing on positive and negative examples. It will prompt important conversations between those featured in the stories and those responsible for sharing them.
Over the years, news stories and media features about disabled people have seldom been a true reflection of the lives we lead and the societal barriers we face. More often than not, stories adhere to stereotypes with features perpetuating disabled people as benefit scroungers or, in contrast, presented as superheroes who have accomplished great feats.
A lasting impact
We know that the media can also be a great tool to challenge these stereotypes and can serve as a powerful force in terms of changing society’s view of disability. It can promote our rights and raise awareness of the barriers that disable us.
Media portrayals, whether good or bad, can have a lasting impact on society and disabled people themselves. That’s why Disability Wales is bringing broadcasters, journalists, and disabled people who work closely with the media together today to discuss what works and what needs to change.
Major broadcasters and media outlets such as BBC Wales, ITV Wales, S4C, and WalesOnline will take part in a panel discussion to examine to what extent disabled people are currently represented across the media. And to and think about the impact media portrayal has on societal attitudes and disabled people themselves.
The panel will be chaired by award-winning disability activist and journalist, Rachel Charlton-Dailey, who will also deliver a keynote speech as part of the day’s events. On their involvement in the conference, they said:
“For too long disability representation in the media has focused on trauma or inspiration. I’m hugely passionate about the importance of showing us as real people who don’t need awe or pity. That’s why I’m so looking forward to the Disability Wales Conference and the empowering conversations it will provoke.”
Seeing people as they are
The audience will also hear from Jane Hutt MS, Minister for Social Justice and Chief Whip, Welsh Government; Dawn Bowden MS, Deputy Minister for Arts, Sport, and Tourism; Natasha Hirst, President of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ); and many more. Jane Hutt said:
“Disabled people’s portrayal in the media must reflect their individuality, and see disabled people as they are, real people with real individual stories, and not some tired old stereotypes. As part of the work of the Disability Rights Taskforce, we are looking at putting in place interventions to help shape how the media representation of disabled people moves from one dominated by stereotypes to one reflecting the diversity of the disabled community.”
Deputy Minister for Arts, Sport, and Tourism, Dawn Bowden, said:
“Supporting diversity in broadcasting, in front of and behind the camera, is a priority for Creative Wales and is aligned to the wider Programme for Government commitments to diversity and inclusion. We all want a media sector in Wales that fully reflects and represents audiences and that provides fair and accessible employment opportunities and attracts, develops, and retains diverse talent.”
“We want a sector that delivers content which tells the stories and reflects the lives of disabled people, a true reflection that doesn’t fall back on stereotypes.”
It’s time for disabled people to ask the questions as we prompt broadcasters and news outlets to think about how they tell our stories and what can be done to challenge stereotypes instead of fuelling them.
The agenda will be crowned with Disability Wales’ Annual General Meeting. Rhian Davies, Chief Executive, Disability Wales, said:
“Whether featuring in or producing content, representation matters and DW’s conference will shine a spotlight on disabled people and the media. In many ways a powerful tool for reaching millions with your message, the media can also undermine years of disability rights campaigning by perpetuating old tropes and lazy stereotypes. Our conference provides an exciting opportunity to bring together key stakeholders to ensure that the media reflects changes in society brought about by the activism of disabled people.”
The event will be chaired and facilitated by Emma Meese, Director of Community Journalism at Cardiff University. Questions to the panel and a roundtable discussion will provide an opportunity for lively debate and will afford disabled people the space to share what they want from the media moving forward.
The audience in the room and online includes disabled people and their allies, representatives of Disabled People’s organisations from across Wales, third sector and public sector representatives, as well as media professionals. The latter will hopefully take plenty of food for thought from the day’s discussions, ready for their next story.
The conference will run from 10am until 4pm today and is a hybrid event. You can watch it live on YouTube.