Skip to content

Disability-Stereotypes Handout

December 1, 2010

Download Link: 22749188-Disability-Stereotypes

Dominant notions of ‘disability’

The individual model

The societal view of disability generally conforms to the individual or overcoming or medical model of

disability. This holds that disability is inherent in the individual, whose responsibility it is to ‘overcome’ her or

his ‘tragic’ disability.

Often this ‘overcoming’ is achieved through medical intervention, such as attempts at ‘cures’. This approach

to disability aims for the normalisation of disabled people, often through the medicalisation of their condition.


The social model of disability

This distinguishes between impairment (the physical or mental ‘problem’) and disability (the way society

views it as being a negative). It holds that impairments are not inherently disabling, but that disability is caused

by society which fails to provide for people with impairments, and which puts obstacles in their way. Examples

include access: the built environment often does not allow access for people with mobility problems.

Discriminatory attitudes are also disabling: for example, the idea that disability is a personal tragedy for the

‘sufferer’ impinges upon disabled people in a variety of negative ways, from their social relationships to their

ability to get jobs.

“Disability is produced in different forms, and in different proportions, in different cultures” (Oliver,



It has been argued that dominant notions of ‘normality’ and beauty do not allow for the natural range of

difference in human form. These notions are not only prejudicial to the acceptance of disabled people, but also

increasingly impact on non-disabled people. Charlotte Cooper, for example, applies the social model to obesity,

and concludes that there are some important categories through which obesity can be defined as a disability:

• A slender body is ‘normal’

• Fatness is a deviation from the norm.

• Fat and disabled people share low social status.

• Fatness is medicalised (e.g. jaw-wiring and stomach-stapling).

• Fat people are blamed for their greed and lack of control over their bodies.

Consider why it is that fat people or disabled people are rarely portrayed as sexually attractive. The media

continue to enforce disability stereotypes portraying disabled individuals in a negative un-empowering way.


In his 1991 study, Paul Hunt identified 10 stereotypes that the media use to portray disabled people:

1. The disabled person as pitiable or pathetic

2. An object of curiosity or violence

3. Sinister or evil

4. The super cripple

5. As atmosphere

6. Laughable

7. His/her own worst enemy

8. As a burden

9. As Non-sexual

10. Being unable to participate in daily life

Shakespeare (1999) presents a potential reason behind the use of one of these stereotypes: “The use of

disability as character trait, plot device, or as atmosphere is a lazy short-cut. These representations are not accurate or fair reflections of the actual experience of disabled people. Such stereotypes reinforce negative attitudes towards disabled people, and ignorance about the nature of disability”In other words, the disability itself is often used as a hook by writers and film-makers to draw audiences into the story. These one-dimensional stereotypes are often distanced from the audience – where characters are only viewed through their impairment, and not valued as people.  Shakespeare (1999) continues: “Above all, the dominant images [of disabled people] are crude, one-dimensional and simplistic.”


From → Presentations

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: