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Characters with Disabilities: The Deficiency of Difference in Children’s Media

Jun 9, 2017   //   by   //   Community Blog  //  Comments Off on Characters with Disabilities: The Deficiency of Difference in Children’s Media
Understanding Sam and Asperger Syndrome book cover

Understanding Sam and Asperger Syndrome, by Clarabelle van Niekerk, Liezl Venter

As I’ve grown, I realized that there was no one like me in any of my recreational distractions. I’m and African American female who also happens to be completely deaf in one ear. Granted these may be setbacks that don’t outrageously affect my everyday life, but they are still part of who I am and I’d like to see that portrayed in the media. Once my difference became apparent to me I began a full-fledged examination on the shortage of characters with disabilities in the media. When entertainment doesn’t do its best to reflect real people and real-life experiences by diversifying its characters, we “real people” feel cheated. It affects the self-esteem of any child with a disability who can never relate to what they watch or read, and it creates a strain on children who haven’t learned how to properly approach other children who are disabled.

Wrong Representation:

Secondary Character Syndrome

The problem is not only the matter of the lack of children’s media that feature characters with disabilities but also the way they portray them. There is a difference between media about a character with a disability and media that includes a disabled character. The latter could easily be ensnared by “secondary character syndrome”, i.e. creating this character that is different from the others in race, sexual orientation, or special needs and using them as a prop or a filler instead of a character the audience can actually relate to. They have no story, they barely have a voice, and by the end of it you probably won’t remember their name (if they are given one). More effort should be put into making those characters count and creating a storyline around them that develops their needs and lifestyle in a way that accurately portrays someone who is disabled.
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