Developing an Equality Policy in schools

Many young people who do not find racism acceptable still engage in sexism, homophobia or disabilism, by name-calling or bullying. All schools need to have an ethos where all children feel welcome and safe. The school should challenge racism, disabilism, sexism and all forms of prejudice and promote equality through measures such as these:

  • Teachers need to promote an ethos in all classes where children feel able to talk about their lives and feelings, where the class are encouraged to support one another and work collectively. The effects of racism, including anti-semitism, disabilism, sexism, homophobia and prejudice, should be explained and discussed so the children develop empathy, are able to challenge discrimination and include those who may feel excluded, supporting them within and outside the classroom. Young children can be taught this by drawing on their great sense of fairness.
  • Being aware of harassment is essential. It can take many forms, from moving slightly away from a child on the carpet to physical attack. Seemingly minor incidents should be discussed and brought out in the open so the victim is supported and the whole class understands the effects.
  • Understanding that children have different styles of learning and multiple intelligences and need different styles of teaching and learning in our classes. Valuing the teaching of art, music, drama, dance and PE as much as other subjects, and understanding that skill and achievements in these areas, and the consequent self-esteem, lead to greater ability to achieve in all subjects.
  • All members of staff should challenge stereotypical and prejudiced comments used in lessons, the playground and the surrounding environment. For example, challenging name-calling; reporting and clearing offensive graffiti.
  • Supporting pupils who encounter harassment in the community, understanding that children who live in fear cannot learn. Supporting and campaigning for families who face deportation.
  • Using opportunities, through assemblies, to deal with issues of prejudice eg Kick Racism out of Football; understanding why people are disabled or refugees; Jewish Resistance to fascism in the East End; disabled people struggling for their rights.
  • Using opportunities to celebrate the richness and diversity of different cultures eg Black History Month, Refugee Week, Eid (from an anti-racist perspective). being aware that multi-cultural education on its own does not challenge racism; European Disabled People’s Day (3rd December) from a rights, not charity, perspective, International Women’s Day (8th March). Make sure to include white working-class children, eg teaching about the writing, art and struggles for social equality that give dignity to working-class people, so that they do not feel they need to look to extreme right-wing groups to reinforce their identity.
  • Drawing parallels between racism, sexism, disabilism and discriminatory practices, based on social class: to foster solidarity between boys and girls, black and white, disabled and non-disabled, working class students. Challenge the use of normative testing in relation to race, class, gender and disability.
  • Exploring opportunities throughout the curriculum to promote anti-racism and inclusion, eg visits to community organisations, circle time, circles of friends, use of the media, visiting speakers from local minority ethnic communities and disabled people’s organisations.
  • Displaying work from all pupils with achievements in any areas of the curriculum in and outside the school. Ensuring the materials and content of lessons cover a wide diversity of different cultures and people.
  • Purchasing and reviewing resources, such as books, posters and ICT software to ensure they are inclusive.
  • Providing accessible school structures where pupils, parents and staff have a voice.
  • In studying media images, ensure images from different cultures are available (see Bollywood and disability).
  • It is important that all staff fully understand all these issues so that they put them into practice daily in all areas of the curriculum. If teachers feel ill-equipped or uncomfortable to deal with these issues, they should hold staff meetings and seek INSET opportunities.

These points were developed for schools by Susie Burrows and Michael Vance of Hackney.

Published in: on February 27, 2007 at 6:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Developing an Equality Policy in schools

Many young people who do not find racism acceptable still engage in sexism, homophobia or disabilism, by name-calling or bullying. All schools need to have an ethos where all children feel welcome and safe. The school should challenge racism, disabilism, sexism and all forms of prejudice and promote equality through measures such as these:

  • Teachers need to promote an ethos in all classes where children feel able to talk about their lives and feelings, where the class are encouraged to support one another and work collectively. The effects of racism, including anti-semitism, disabilism, sexism, homophobia and prejudice, should be explained and discussed so the children develop empathy, are able to challenge discrimination and include those who may feel excluded, supporting them within and outside the classroom. Young children can be taught this by drawing on their great sense of fairness.
  • Being aware of harassment is essential. It can take many forms, from moving slightly away from a child on the carpet to physical attack. Seemingly minor incidents should be discussed and brought out in the open so the victim is supported and the whole class understands the effects.
  • Understanding that children have different styles of learning and multiple intelligences and need different styles of teaching and learning in our classes. Valuing the teaching of art, music, drama, dance and PE as much as other subjects, and understanding that skill and achievements in these areas, and the consequent self-esteem, lead to greater ability to achieve in all subjects.
  • All members of staff should challenge stereotypical and prejudiced comments used in lessons, the playground and the surrounding environment. For example, challenging name-calling; reporting and clearing offensive graffiti.
  • Supporting pupils who encounter harassment in the community, understanding that children who live in fear cannot learn. Supporting and campaigning for families who face deportation.
  • Using opportunities, through assemblies, to deal with issues of prejudice eg Kick Racism out of Football; understanding why people are disabled or refugees; Jewish Resistance to fascism in the East End; disabled people struggling for their rights.
  • Using opportunities to celebrate the richness and diversity of different cultures eg Black History Month, Refugee Week, Eid (from an anti-racist perspective). being aware that multi-cultural education on its own does not challenge racism; European Disabled People’s Day (3rd December) from a rights, not charity, perspective, International Women’s Day (8th March). Make sure to include white working-class children, eg teaching about the writing, art and struggles for social equality that give dignity to working-class people, so that they do not feel they need to look to extreme right-wing groups to reinforce their identity.
  • Drawing parallels between racism, sexism, disabilism and discriminatory practices, based on social class: to foster solidarity between boys and girls, black and white, disabled and non-disabled, working class students. Challenge the use of normative testing in relation to race, class, gender and disability.
  • Exploring opportunities throughout the curriculum to promote anti-racism and inclusion, eg visits to community organisations, circle time, circles of friends, use of the media, visiting speakers from local minority ethnic communities and disabled people’s organisations.
  • Displaying work from all pupils with achievements in any areas of the curriculum in and outside the school. Ensuring the materials and content of lessons cover a wide diversity of different cultures and people.
  • Purchasing and reviewing resources, such as books, posters and ICT software to ensure they are inclusive.
  • Providing accessible school structures where pupils, parents and staff have a voice.
  • In studying media images, ensure images from different cultures are available (see Bollywood and disability).
  • It is important that all staff fully understand all these issues so that they put them into practice daily in all areas of the curriculum. If teachers feel ill-equipped or uncomfortable to deal with these issues, they should hold staff meetings and seek INSET opportunities.

These points were developed for schools by Susie Burrows and Michael Vance of Hackney.

Published in: on February 27, 2007 at 6:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

Disability, diversity and Equal Opportunities

  • Institutional discrimination
  • Discussing Equal Opportunities in the classroom

Power in society, and in the world, has always been distributed unevenly. This is reflected in moving image, as in other cultural artefacts. In most societies in the world, access to higher socio-economic class is still restricted by social status, wealth, privilege, education and profession.

Worldwide, resilient social structures remain largely intact for the benefit of the powerful few, while the many live in poverty. Moving image media often allow ordinary people to glimpse the world of the powerful few and fantasise about achieving it for themselves, while also reinforcing why they are not entitled to expect equality.

Images of the Western free market economy lifestyle have sometimes been a spur for social change: in soviet Russia, Communist Eastern Europe or apartheid South Africa, for example. However, overthrowing existing orders has not necessarily benefited ordinary people, as the rich and poor have tended simply to become more polarised in these societies. In the new world order, where world markets are dominated by multinational companies, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), The World Bank and World Trade Organisation, this growing polarisation between rich and poor seems likely to continue, with all the social problems it creates.

Institutional discrimination

Seeing images of an unattainable lifestyle can create a sense of injustice in the viewer, which may turn into prejudice or discrimination towards those perceived to be preventing access to a better job/life/status. These could include women, different racial, minority ethnic or religious groups and disabled people. This process has often been encouraged by those in power to help maintain the status quo, and is one of the root causes of racism, sexism and disabilism.

A current UK example is the prejudicial treatment of asylum seekers by politicians and others. The UK has a shortage of labour and takes fewer asylum seekers than most European countries, yet sentiments against them are stirred up by their portrayal in the press and on TV.

According to a major new survey of public attitudes, Profile of Prejudice (June 2003) stonewall.org.uk:

  • Asylum seekers, refugees, travellers and Roma people are the groups the public is most prejudiced against.
  • Those who hold one prejudice are much more likely to be prejudiced against other minority groups.
  • Television is the primary influence on the formation of prejudicial attitudes.

Prejudice and discrimination towards women (sexism), or towards people with alternative sexuality – gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans-gendered – can be just as potent and oppressive. Once such prejudices become built into the structures of society (the police, judiciary and education system, amongst employers or employees), there is institutional discrimination. These establishments have a direct influence on the media industry. From funding for films that challenge the status quo, to employment of minority groups, the institutions affect whether films get made and distributed to a wider audience.


Kes

Occasionally, films that challenge this status quo emerge and are seen as both powerful and dangerous. Some well-known ones are Kes (UK, 1969, Ken Loach), which shows how state schools fail working-class children; Mississippi Burning (1988, Alan Parker, USA), about the fight to find the racist murderers of three civil rights workers in a town which is cajoled by the Ku Klux Klan into covering up the crime; Schindler’s List (USA, 1993, Steven Spielberg), the story of how a Nazi businessman saved hundreds of his Jewish factory workers from concentration camps; and City of God (2002, Katia Lund/Fernando Meirelles, Brazil) about Brazilian street children, the gangs they form and the poverty and crime they are forced into. For a list of other films that challenge prevailing attitudes.

Discussing Equal Opportunities in the classroom

Schools in the UK are committed to Equal Opportunities and are required to have a strong anti-racist strategy. The need to challenge racism is well understood by pupils and staff. Challenging sexism, disabilism and homophobia is not always given the same importance. Experience over the last thirty years shows that a whole-school approach involving all staff, pupils, parents and governors is the most effective way to change school culture.

Moving image media texts can play a crucial part in developing this culture of equality, by encouraging students/pupils to go beyond their instinctive reactions and explore issues of identity, nationalism, normality, and prejudices of all sorts.


The Bone Collector

Oppressions are not separate entities, but interact with each other. The oppression of disabilism may interact with racism, sexism or homophobia. Some films challenge these oppressions and others just exploit them. For example, The Bone Collector (2000, Phillip Noyce, USA), challenges stereotypes through Denzel Washington’s character, who is disliked by his police chief because he is a clever black man and a disabled person with quadriplegia; whereas Candyman (1992, Bernard Rose, USA), reinforces prejudices as it tells of the apparition of a black man who had his hand chopped off for having a relationship with a white woman a hundred years before. He returns to a downtown Chicago housing estate to attack and mutilate white women with his prosthesis, or hook. The film plays to the racism, sexism and disabilism of the audience to create horror. For a list of other films that would be useful for discussions about prejudice in the classsroom.

Published in: on February 27, 2007 at 6:02 pm  Comments (1)  

Defying stereotypes: the way forward

“Disabled people should be shown as an ordinary part of life in all forms of representation, not as stereotypes or invisible.”

This was the verdict of 150 key image-makers at the Invisible Children Conference 1995.

In films, disabled people rarely have a character other than as defined by variations of the stereotypes above. The following guidelines have been offered by disabled people as a starting point for portraying them in a non-stereotyped way. 

1. Shun one-dimensional characterisations. Portray disabled people as having complex personalities capable of a full range of emotions.

2. Avoid depicting us as always receiving. Show us as equals, giving as well as receiving.

3. Avoid presenting physical and mental characteristics as determining personality.

4. Refrain from depicting us as objects of curiosity. Make us ordinary. Our impairments should not be ridiculed or made the butt of jokes.

5. Avoid sensationalising us, especially as victims or perpetrators of violence.

6. Refrain from endowing us with superhuman attributes.

7. Avoid Pollyanna-ish plots that make our attitude the problem. Show the barriers we face in society that keep us from living full lives.

8. Avoid showing disabled people as non-sexual. Show us in loving relationships and expressing the same range of sexual needs and desires as non-disabled people.

9. Show us as an ordinary part of life in all forms of representation.

10. Most importantly, cast us, train us and write us into your scripts, programmes and publications.

(From a leaflet that was produced by R. Rieser for the 1 in 8 Group, formed after the Invisible Children Conference, 1995. Several individuals in the media committed to challenging the portrayal and employment of disabled people.)

Published in: on February 27, 2007 at 5:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Stereotypes

Stereotypes are groups of attitudes which have little or no basis in reality and yet persist in cultures. Stereotyping reduces the individuality and character of people to false social constructs. This leads to name-calling and violence towards the subjects of stereotyping, undercutting the humanity of the victims.

There are ten main stereotypes of disabled people:

1. Pitiable and pathetic; sweet and innocent; a miracle cure

  • Charity adverts (eg one child in a school group ‘under the shadow of diabetes’); Poor Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol (1938, Edwin L. Marin, USA);
  • David Merrick, the ‘saintly sage’ with huge growths on his face and scoliosis, exhibited as a freak in The Elephant Man (1980, David Lynch, UK);
  • Porgy, whom Bess rejects because he has a physical impairment, in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (1959, Otto Preminger/Rouben Mamoulian, USA);
  • Pollyanna, shown as a sweet and pitiable disabled girl in Pollyanna (1920, Paul Powell, USA; 1960, David Swift, USA);
  • The blind flower seller in City Lights (1931, Charlie Chaplin, USA);
  • Clara, who uses a wheelchair, but walks when she gets to the mountains in Heidi (1937, Allan Dwan, USA);
  • Colin in The Secret Garden (1949, Fred M. Wilcox, USA).

2. Victim or an object of violence

  • Deaf Christine, cruelly deceived by two men in In the Company of Men (1997, Neil LaBute, USA);
  • Wheelchair-using Marty in Steven King’s Silver Bullet (1985, Dan Attias, USA);
  • Wheelchair-using Blanche, victimised by her sister in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962, Robert Aldrich, USA);
  • Blind Suzy Hendrix, terrorised by drug smugglers in Wait until Dark (1967, Terence Young, USA).

3. Sinister or evil

  • Shakespeare’s hunchbacked and vengeful Richard III (1955, Laurence Olivier, UK; and 1996, Richard Loncraine, UK);
  • Pirates with wooden leg/eye patch/hook in Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1920, Maurice Tourneur, USA);
  • Dr. Strangelove (1963, Stanley Kubrick, USA) features a mad, wheelchair-using scientist;
  • Evil Dr. No, with his two false hands in the Bond film, Dr. No (1962, Terence Young, UK);
  • The pirate captain in Hook (1991, Steven Spielberg, USA);
  • Terrifying Freddy in Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, Wes Craven, USA);
  • Bitter and vengeful Mr Glass with his brittle bones in Unbreakable (2000, M. Night Shyamalan, USA).

4. Atmosphere – curios or exotica in ‘freak shows’, and in comics, horror movies and science fiction

  • A whole cast of genuinely disabled people was used to create horror in Freaks (1932, Tod Browning, USA);
  • The facially disfigured Phantom, in Phantom of the Opera (1925, Rupert Julian, USA);
  • The deaf, dumb and blind kid in Tommy (1975, Ken Russell, UK);
  • All the ‘baddies’ who have tics and disabilities in Dick Tracy (1990, Warren Beatty, USA);
  • Cousin Lyman, a short hunchback who causes trouble in The Ballad of the Sad Café (1991, Simon Callow, UK/USA);
  • The one-armed man in The Fugitive (1993, Andrew Davis, USA).

5. ‘Super-crip’/ triumph over tragedy/noble warrior

  • A spinally-injured veteran coming to terms with his impairment in The Men (1950, Fred Zinnemann, USA);
  • Physically-impaired Douglas Bader walking without sticks and flying in Reach for the Sky (1956, Lewis Gilbert, UK);
  • A war veteran coping with his injuries again in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946, William Wyler, USA);
  • Christy Brown writing in My Left Foot (1989, Jim Sheridan, UK);
  • Blind Mathew Murdock has radar-like senses he uses to fight evil in Daredevil (2003, Mark Steven Johnson, USA);
  • The last item on the TV news, eg a blind man climbing a mountain.

6. Laughable or the butt of jokes

  • In many early films, such as The Automobile Accident (1904) or the over 100 films featuring ‘Crettini';
  • All the men who are short people in Time Bandits (1981, Terry Gilliam, UK);
  • Dumb and Dumber, featuring two men with learning difficulties in laughable situations (1988, Charles Crichton, USA);
  • The lead character is a man with learning difficulties in Forrest Gump (1994, Robert Zemeckis, USA);
  • Lee Evans feigning cerebral palsy in There’s Something About Mary (1998, Peter Farrelly/Bobby Farrelly, USA);
  • Mr. Magoo, the shortsighted butt of jokes in cartoons and film (2001, Walt Disney, USA).

7. Having a chip on their shoulder/ aggressive avenger

  • The Claw, who is twisted and evil, in Dick Tracy (1947, John Rawlins, USA) because he has lost a hand;
  • Captain Ahab in Moby Dick (1956, John Huston, USA);
  • Laura in The Glass Menagerie (1987, Paul Newman, USA);
  • Captain Hook, the wicked pirate in Hook;
  • The vengeful, hook-using, black ghost in Candyman (1992, Bernard Rose, USA).

8. A burden/ outcast

  • The disabled wife who feels she is a useless burden in Ich Klage An (I Accuse) (1941, Wolfgang Liebeneiner);
  • The disabled child whose parents consider euthanasia in A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (1971, Peter Medak, UK);
  • The facially disfigured boy in Mask (1985, Peter Bogdanovich, USA);
  • The ‘In-valids’ who are not of perfect genetic design in Gattaca (1997, Andrew Niccol, USA),
  • The TV series Beauty and the Beast, set in subterranean New York, the Morlocks in the X-Men comics or X2, (2003, Bryan Singer, USA), in which characters with impairments live apart from society;
  • Despised outcast, Quasimodo, in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923, Wallace Worsley, USA; 1998, Walt Disney, USA).

9. Non-sexual or incapable of a worthwhile relationship

  • Marlon Brando’s disabled veteran in The Men;
  • Clifford Chatterley is impotent in Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1981, Just Jaeckin, UK/France/ Germany);
  • Ron Kovic, disabled war veteran in Born on the Fourth of July (1989, Oliver Stone, USA);
  • Paralysed Jan in Breaking the Waves (1996, Lars Von Trier, Denmark).

10. Incapable of fully participating in everyday life

  • The absence of disabled people from everyday situations, and not being shown as integral and productive members of society. When they are shown, the focus is on their impairments:
  • Deaf people in Children of a Lesser God (1986, Randa Haines, USA);
  • The true story of the prince hidden from society and his family in The Lost Prince (2002, Steven Poliakoff, BBC TV).
  • (Based on Biklen and Bogdana, 1977. Amended by R. Rieser and M. Mason: Disability Equality in the Classroom, 1992).
  • Find out more about these and many other films on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) at www.imdb.com
Published in: on February 27, 2007 at 5:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

The ‘traditional model’

The ‘traditional model’

Traditionally, in many cultures around the world, people with physical, sensory or mental impairments were thought of as under the spell of witchcraft, possessed by demons, or as penitent sinners, being punished by God for wrong-doing by themselves or their parents.

witches1.jpg
A medieval woodcut of witches.

The ‘medical model’

With the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, came a more scientific understanding of the causes of impairment and, with it, a sense of confidence in medical science’s ability to cure, or at least rehabilitate, disabled people. Some disabled people (often for social or political reasons) were deemed incurable and placed in long-stay institutions and special schools (or, today, in day-care centres). A notion of ‘normality’ was invested with great pseudo-scientific significance. It was based on assessments of impairments from a deficit point of view against normality: what one cannot do, instead of what one can do. This has been called ‘medical model’ (or ‘individual model’) thinking by the Disabled People’s Movement over the last 30 years. This is not to deny the very necessary role of medical science in keeping many disabled people alive, and reducing their pain and discomfort, but it is to argue that disabled people should not be reduced to just their impairments.

The ‘medical model’ sees disabled people as the problem. They need to be adapted to fit into the world as it is. If this isn’t possible, then they should be shut away in a specialised institution or isolated at home, where only their most basic needs are met. The emphasis is on dependence, backed up by the stereotypes of disability that bring out pity, fear and patronising attitudes. Usually, the impairment is focused on, rather than the needs of the person. The power to change disabled people seems to lie with the medical and associated professions, with their talk of cures, normalisation and science. Often, disabled people’s lives are handed over to these professionals. Their decisions affect where disabled people go to school; what support they get; where they live; what benefits they are entitled to; whether they can work; and even, at times, whether they are born at all, or allowed to have children themselves.

In addition, the Disability Movement points out how the built environment imposes further limitations on disabled people. Medical model thinking would say these problems are due to the disabled person’s lack of rehabilitation. The Disability Movement perceives the difficulties disabled people experience as the barriers that disable them and curtail their life chances. These difficulties include in school and higher education, in finding work and suitable work environments, accessing leisure and entertainment facilities, using private and public transport, obtaining suitable housing, or in their personal, family and social life.

impairment_diagram.gif

Diagram showing the effects of medical model thinking.

Powerful and pervasive medical model views are reinforced in the media, books, films, comics, art and language. Many disabled people internalise negative views of themselves and develop feelings of low self-esteem and underachievement, which reinforce non-disabled people’s assessments of their worth. The medical model, plus the built environment and social attitudes it creates, lead to a cycle of dependency and exclusion which is difficult to break.

This thinking predominates in filmmaking, leisure, work and education. In schools, for instance, special educational needs are considered the problem of the individual, who is seen as different, faulty and needing to be assessed and made as ‘normal’ as possible.

Increasingly, today, the medical model is being rejected. Many people feel strongly that treating disabled people as needing to be adapted to existing circumstances or, if this is not possible, caring for them in specialised institutions, is wrong.

The ‘social model’

In recent years, the disability movement has advocated a different way of looking at disability, which they call the ‘social model’. This starts from the standpoint of all disabled adults’ and children’s right to belong to and be valued in their local community. Using this model, you start by looking at the strengths of the person with the impairment and at the physical and social barriers that obstruct them, whether at school, college, home or work. The ‘social model’ defines ‘impairment’ and ‘disability’ as very different things:


Disabled people rally together to demonstrate for their rights.

“Impairment is the loss or limitation of physical, mental or sensory function on a long-term or permanent basis.

Disablement is the loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in the normal life of the community on an equal level with others due to physical and social barriers.” Disabled People’s International 1981

 Impairment and chronic illness exist and sometimes pose real difficulties. Supporters of the disability movement believe that the discrimination against disabled people is socially created and has little to do with their impairments, and that, regardless of the type or severity of their impairments, disabled people are subjected to a common oppression by the non-disabled world. Disabled people are often made to feel it’s their own fault that they are different. If some part, or parts, of your body or mind are limited in their functioning, this is simply an impairment. It doesn’t make you any less human. But most people have not been brought up to accept all people as they are; in other words, to value difference. Through fear, ignorance and prejudice, barriers and discrimination develop which disable some people. These are often reinforced by images in the media. Understanding this process allows disabled people to feel good about themselves and empowers them to fight for their human rights.

Diagram showing the problems as perceived by ‘social model’ thinking.

The ‘social model’ approach suggests disabled people’s disadvantage is due to a complex form of institutional discrimination, as fundamental to society as sexism, racism or heterosexism. The disability movement believes the ‘cure’ to the problem of disability lies in changing society. Unlike medically-based cures, this is an achievable goal and benefits everyone.

The obsession with finding medically-based cures also distracts people from looking at the causes of impairment or disablement. In a worldwide sense, most impairments are created by wars, hunger, lack of clean water, exploitation of labour, lack of safety, and child abuse and these should be addressed more robustly, rather than just responding to the injuries and impairments that result from them.

Challenging prejudice

Chart comparing the attitudes of medical model and social model thinking.

Social model thinking has important implications for the education system, and particularly primary and secondary schools. Prejudiced attitudes toward disabled people and all minority groups are not innate. They are learned through contact with the prejudice and ignorance of others.

Therefore, it is appropriate that the challenge to discrimination against disabled people should begin in schools. The fight for the inclusion of all disabled people, however severe their impairments, in one mainstream social system, will not make sense unless people understand the difference between the social and medical models of disability.

The social model has now been adopted by the World Health Organisation.

Who is disabled?

People who have an impairment and experience some form of social exclusion as a result are disabled people. Many people have impairments, such as those who use glasses or contact lenses. They are not usually discriminated against. Whereas, people who are deaf and use hearing aids are usually discriminated against by barriers in communication. Therefore, disabled people includes people with:

  • Physical impairments;
  • Sensory impairments (deaf people, blind people);
  • Chronic illness or health issues, including HIV and AIDS;
  • All degrees of learning difficulties;
  • Emotional, mental health and behavioural problems.

The definition also includes people with hidden impairments, such as:

  • Epilepsy;
  • Diabetes;
  • Sickle cell anaemia;
  • Specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia;
  • Speech and language impairments;
  • Children labelled as ‘delicate';
  • People who identify as ‘disfigured';
  • People of diminutive stature;
  • People with mental distress.

Children of a Lesser God (1986, Randa Haines, USA)

Disabled people fight for equality

In the last 30 years, disabled people have campaigned for and won a human rights-based approach to disability. It is beginning to be accepted that disability discrimination, prejudice, negative attitudes and stereotypes are not acceptable. The struggles of disabled people to gain civil rights have led to legislation in the USA (The Americans with Disabilities Act 1990); in the UK (The Disability Discrimination Act 1995); and many other countries, including South Africa, India and Australia. The United Nations adopted the UN Standard Rules on Equalisation in 1992.

In all these measures, the onus is on eliminating discrimination by bringing in enforceable civil rights legislation, based on the idea that adjustments need to be made to services, buildings, transport, workplaces, environments, communications and equipment to allow disabled people access. Prejudicial attitudes and practices are outlawed and institutional discrimination, in the form of organisations which exclude disabled people, is being challenged.

However, negative attitudes, stereotypes and distorted portrayals of disabled people’s lives still predominate in commercial films. The increasing capacity of the world media system to recycle moving image media means that, despite worthy legislation, negative views are continually reinforced through film.

Check out the Disability Rights Commission website for guidance and a Code of Practice.

Disability equality training for education professionals is available from Disability Equality in Education Tel: 020 7359 2855.

Published in: on February 27, 2007 at 4:59 pm  Comments (1)  

The Disability Arts Movement

This movement has produced a counter-culture over the last 30 years to give expression to the disabled people’s movement. A number of the short films on the bfi DVD Disabling Imagery? that accompanies this site have come from disabled filmmakers who would view themselves as part of this movement. As yet, no commercially distributed feature films have been made from this perspective.

Published in: on February 3, 2007 at 3:26 am  Comments Off  

Themes today

Many of the prejudiced attitudes that still exist today have their foundations in these longstanding historical influences.

Various aspects of medical treatment and care in the UK, USA and Europe are causing great concern to the disability movement, eg:

  • Cut-backs in the welfare state, rationing health care;
  • ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ policies (decided by medical staff) for some disabled people;
  • Growing demands for voluntary euthanasia which, in some cases, can be misused to dispose of a ‘burdensome’ disabled person;
  • The prospect of designer babies, using the knowledge gleaned from the Genome Project, further marginalising people with impairments.

A list of people in history who might not have existed if such policies had operated in the past would include:

Beethoven (deaf)

Toulouse Lautrec (short stature)

Stephen Hawking (motor neurone disease)

Einstein (dyslexic)

Byron (club foot)

F.D. Roosevelt (polio in both legs and unable to walk unaided).

Winston Churchill (depression)

Helen Keller (deaf, blind)

Tanny Grey Thompson, athlete (spina bifida) … and many others.

a_7.jpg
One of only two known pictures of Franklin D. Roosevelt in his wheelchair.Roosevelt perfected ways of disguising his impairment, never being photographed in his wheelchair, because he believed the American public would never vote for a president who was a cripple.ase)

Published in: on February 3, 2007 at 3:25 am  Comments Off  

Propaganda films

Hitler’s Germany used film to great effect to reach the masses. As well as feature films, film was used as documentary propaganda. The Racial and Political Office made five films:

  • Sünden der Vater (Sins of the Fathers, 1935)
  • Abseits vom Wege (Off the Path, 1935)
  • Alles Leben ist Kampf (All Life is a Struggle, 1937)
  • Was du ererbt (What you have inherited, 1929)
  • Erbkrank (Heredity, 1936). This film, intended to criminalise, degrade and dehumanise the mentally and physically impaired, was silent and shot in black and white. The victims were manipulated to make them appear horrific, with superimposed captions of the cost of keeping them alive. Using direct interviews with disabled people, cleverly lit and staged, filmed from below and cut to make them appear very different from ordinary workers, it made the audience sympathise with compulsory sterilisation and, later, mercy killing. By Hitler’s order, it was shown in all German cinemas.

Opfer der Vergangeheit (Victims of the Past, 1937), reworked Erbkrank in a more polished and professional style.

Published in: on February 3, 2007 at 3:19 am  Comments Off  

Charity

One of the basic precepts of the Judaic, Christian and Islamic traditions from earliest times is charity. Charity is normally considered to be a good thing and in some ways it is, but the attitudes that charity has bred in the past have led to some enduring legacies that disabled people find offensive. The idea that giving charity was a way of achieving God’s grace led to pitying or patronising attitudes towards disabled people, and the founding of institutions to care for the less fortunate away from society gave rise to unwanted segregation. Today, disabled people, although some still rely on charity, demand ‘Rights not Charity’. Many of the large charities run by non-disabled people persist in using patronising promotional material.

Published in: on February 3, 2007 at 3:18 am  Comments Off  
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