Is Disability News Doing More Harm Than Good?

Attitudelive.com Connecting the World of Disability

The school ball. It’s a night of glamour, smoky-eye makeup, matching date outfits, sweetheart necklines and no way of getting out of posed photos with your parents. It’s weeks of preparation — if not months! — culminated into one night. I had a fabulous night at my school ball dressing up and dancing the night away with my best friends.

The other morning in the Attitude office some of the team and I were talking about a story which went viral on social media. It was about a young American girl with Down Syndrome who went to prom with a friend. Mary and Ben made a promise to each other when they were 10 years old to go to prom together when they were at high school. We all thought the story was sweet and Mary looked beautiful.

But this made me think, if my story went viral on the Internet because I use a wheelchair and I went to the school ball with my friend, I’d feel quite patronized and maybe even embarrassed. Our film editor at AttitudeLive, Ainsley, who doesn’t have a disability, couldn’t bring herself to click the link when she came across it.

I don’t have a problem with the actual story itself. But I do have a problem with how some reported and talked about it in social media. This headline made me cringe big time: “Mary has Down Syndrome, but that never slowed their friendship.” And how Ben was lauded as a “hero” for being so “kind” to his less fortunate friend.

Humans have a natural tendency to want to feel good and these types of disability-related stories seem to fill that need. But, does this come at a cost?

I believe we need a higher representation of people with disabilities in the mainstream media, but I wonder if this story does more harm than good.

Does this story just tick the inspirational box? Or should we be praising these media outlets for even publishing a story about disability? Does it emphasise that idea that people with disabilities don’t usually fit in society? Or does it promote inclusion?

These are questions I believe media producers need to reflect on. I think there can be a fine line between publishing a story just because a person lives with a disability and publishing a story which is actually newsworthy. What are your thoughts on this kind of story?

Click on this link to read the article on BuzzFeed.

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Originally published at attitudelive.com on June 5, 2015.