Whatever media education actually is, there is a clear and urgent case to guide education and media studies to better understandings of disability. Always under-theorised as a social construct, disability is rarely approached as an issue of social justice in media education, and conventional attitudes towards people with impairments go unchallenged within many areas. Common-sense, individualistic understandings of deficit and damaged personhood prevail, leaving the cultural and structural causes of disablement firmly intact.
The MeCCSA Disability Studies Network has media education at its heart. It was founded in 2010 to support and promote the development of the research and teaching of Disability Studies within Media Studies and Education. We are particularly concerned with research into disabling imagery, disabling aspects of media institutions, cultural equality in the academy and media industries, and the disabling aspects of research itself. We aim to support interventions in media, culture and communications by disability activists, disabled practitioners and academics, particularly those which are designed to interrogate and counteract stereotypes, prejudice and disabling practices. We hope that work on disability (as a form of social oppression) will begin to occupy as prominent a place in media studies and media education as does sexism, racism, postcolonialism and homophobia.
The network also provides a space to support and promote the work of disabled academics, lecturers, researchers and media practitioners working in Higher Education, whose needs and potential contributions are often marginalised and overlooked in academic and media practices. To these ends we have been working to facilitate the sharing of information and to develop and promote research and publication in the fields of media, film, music, communications and cultural studies in relation to disability.
We believe that the need to consider these concerns has become increasingly urgent over recent years. A number of recent initiatives led by disabled people have reflected the growing concern about images of disability in the media and in government documents. These include Inclusion London and Leeds Independent Disability Council (LIDC), and LIDC is currently examining links between media images and the increase in hate crimes and harassment directed towards disabled people.
Media education has much to offer the improvement of attitudes towards disabled people, but only if cultural representations of disability are taken seriously as a focus for critical engagement within both media and studies and education. Media images are replete with images of impairment and disability, yet non-disabled assumptions of ‘normality’ continue to go unseen in approaches to media and education. We firmly believe that critical examination of disability should not be a niche area and that our inclusion is necessary to a Manifesto for Media Education.