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Representation Matters in Media

Written by: BCPF Advocacy Committee

August 24, 2020


Representation matters. We hear this all the time and it really is true. Representation matters! But what does this mean?

It means that everyone deserves to feel like they belong in our society – regardless of gender, economic standing, race, sexual identity, or disability. It means there should be vast diversity among people in positions of power and authority – like politicians, actors, athletes,

directors, writers, doctors, managers, and more. It means the popular media we use to tell and share stories should represent everyone, not just a few. As a society we consume a lot of media and most people, including policymakers and service providers, are heavily influenced by TV, movies, and other popular media. It is becoming more and more clear that throughout the history of media and within our policy-making systems, not all people have been represented fairly.

But at BC People First we are optimistic because it feels like people with disabilities are starting to have real representation in society for the first time…on our TV screens at least! We say for the first time because we believe that representation in media is not just about having a character on screen with a disability or someone in the background to check off that diversity box. But that it happens when all people are included throughout the entire media process – and when people are empowered to represent themselves.

We have noticed a shift in the past couple of years, where people with developmental and learning disabilities are starting to be represented in a more equitable way in media. For example, people with disabilities are playing roles as actors and not only having non-disabled actors playing the roles of people with disabilities. Representation is more than just being identified in media, it is about authenticity and social justice, too.

We know from experience what it feels like to be underrepresented in media. Things are not equitable yet in media but it is getting better. We are optimistic about the future knowing true representation for people with developmental disabilities (and other minorities) is getting better.

Here are a few new shows and movies that BCPF Members say are worth checking out right now

· The Peanut Butter Falcon

· Stumptown

· Stranger Things

· The Politician

· Lady Dynamite

· Douglas by Hannah Gadsby

· Crip Camp

· Speechless

· Ramy

Media is how people tell and share stories. Research shows that on average Canadians spend 6 hours per day with media. Almost everyone engages with TV, movies, and the news. Stories are powerful. And they should come from people with experience in the subject matter to avoid perpetuating stereotypes. Media is such a big part of our lives so when we don’t have access to diverse stories from lots of types of people it is easy to think that differences are not normal. But different is normal – disability is normal.

We are all different and all have unique goals, struggles, and needs. We all have a story to tell that deserves to be shared and might just help someone else feel like they belong. When disability is talked about, highlighted, and celebrated in public forums like media, it needs to by people with lived-experiences. Understanding this simple concept and embracing representation in media for all will help our society become naturally inclusive towards people who are often left out.

It is always worth it to remember the saying “nothing about us without us” because including people in what stories are told about them is real representation. As self-advocates, we do not think it is okay to highlight stories or education about people with disabilities and not include them in the conversation or the process. We want everyone to be careful about where they get their stories from. We highly recommend getting information about disability from people who experience it on a daily basis, people with expertise and knowledge.

BCPF Members agree that when people feel wholly represented in popular media they also feel more connected to their community and have a greater sense of belonging. This is why equal representation in media and other platforms really does matter – it can reduce feelings of social isolation for many and help stop the very stressful pressures that come with not feeling like we fit into society. This matters to us at BC People First and we hope it matters to you, too.

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