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Disability and the Media
Prescriptions for Change
Charles A. Riley, II

Disability Library

2005 • 284 pp. 6 x 9"
Film, TV, Visual Culture / Disability Studies

$29.95 Hardcover, 978-1-58465-473-5

$28.99 Ebook, 978-1-61168-393-6

Check your ebook retailer or local library for ebook availability.

“This book is cranky, idiosyncratic, witty, readable, funny, and beautifully written . . . it will have broad use in communication and journalism collections.”Choice

A journalist's passionate exposé of the media's portrayal of the disabled.

In the past decade, the mass media discovered disability. Spurred by the box-office appeal of superstars such as the late Christopher Reeve, Michael J. Fox, Stephen Hawking, and others, and given momentum by the success of Oscar-winning movies, popular television shows, best-selling books, and profitable websites, major media corporations have reversed their earlier course of hiding disability, bringing it instead to center stage.

Yet depictions of disability have remained largely unchanged since the 1920s. Focusing almost exclusively on the medical aspect of injury or illness, the disability profile in fact and fiction leads inevitably to an inspiring moment of “overcoming.” According to Riley, this cliché plays well with a general audience, but such narratives, driven by prejudice and pity, highlight the importance of “fixing” the disability and rendering the “sufferer” as normal as possible. These stories are deeply offensive to persons with disabilities. Equally important, misguided coverage has adverse effects on crucial aspects of public policy, such as employment, social services, and health care.

Powerful and influential, the media is complicit in this distortion of disability issues that has proven to be a factor in the economic and social repression of one in five Americans. Newspapers and magazines continue to consign disability stories to the “back of the book” health or human-interest sections, using offensive language that has long been proscribed by activists. Filmmakers compound the problem by featuring angry misfits or poignant heroes of melodramas that pair love and redemption. Publishers churn out self-help titles and memoirs that milk the disability theme for pathos. As Riley points out, all branches of the media are guilty of the same crude distillation of the story to serve their own, usually fiscal, ends.

Riley’s lively inside investigation illuminates the extent of the problem while pinpointing how writers, editors, directors, producers, filmmakers, advertisers and the executives who give their marching orders go wrong, or occasionally get it right. Through a close analysis of the technical means of representation, in conjunction with the commentary of leading voices in the disability community, Riley guides future coverage to a more fair and accurate way of putting the disability story on screen or paper. He argues that with the “discovery” by Madison Avenue that the disabled community is a major consumer niche, the economic rationale for more sophisticated coverage is at hand. It is time, says Riley, to cut through the accumulated stereotypes and find an adequate vocabulary that will finally represent the disability community in all its vibrant and fascinating diversity.

Click here for TABLE OF CONTENTS

From the Book:

“The press perpetuates stereotypes in the same way that it codifies other errors, by repeating the same inaccuracies over and over and not taking the trouble or having the courage and integrity to acknowledge them. This book points fingers. Similar wake-up calls have nudged the press into more judicious coverage of women and minorities. Disability is the all-inclusive minority—it is completely race- and culture-blind—and it will be worth it to land a few punches on the media and rouse them from their torpor to take a more active look at the way in which they address disability issues. My motive is the same today as when I put together the first issue of WE—to improve the situation of people with disabilities by bringing the most sophisticated, credible journalistic techniques to their service in the belief that the skillfulness and accuracy of the portrait empowers the sitter.”


CHOICE Outstanding Academic Titles (2005) Commendation

Author Photo

CHARLES A. RILEY II is a newsroom veteran, the co-founder of WeMedia, the first multimedia company devoted to people with disabilities, and the former editor-in-chief of WE, its national lifestyle magazine. A former reporter covering politics and policy, science and finance for Fortune magazine, former senior editor of Art & Auction magazine, and a frequent contributor to Art & Antiques magazine, Dr. Riley has appeared on CNN, CNNfn, NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox News and NPR as a commentator on disability-related issues. He has won major service awards for his coverage of disability from Easter Seals, United Cerebral Palsy, the National Recovery Alliance, and other organizations. The author of nine books on the arts, Riley is Associate Professor of English at Baruch College/City University of New York.

Mon, 18 Jun 2018 11:53:04 -0500