Lessons learned from the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD)
By Michael Abbott
The Tropes Trap:
Cultural (Mis)Representations of Disability
Presented by Margaret Camp – University of South Carolina Upstate
Trope is a stigma, stereotype, pigeonholes, or narrative
- Media forms public perception
- Perception affects actions and treatment
- Media is absorbed and replicated
- Stereotypes are normalized through repetition
- Stigma relies upon reinforcement and repetition
- Media has been a key reinforcer of negative stereotypes about disability
The presenter identified 5 tropes:
- Victim Trope
- Supercrip Trope
- “Freak” Trope
- Sinister Trope
- Disability superpower Trope
The Victim Trope
Extreme medical model – ‘cure’ focused – obliterate the disability
- “The Pity Trope”
- Pity/Plight, “cure” focused
- Eternal Innocence, angelic
- The sentimental
- “Plucky”, courageous, long-suffering
The Supercrip Trope
If the only disability in life is a bad attitude society is relieved from having to worry about tackling issues of inaccessibility and discrimination.
We don’t need to worry about structural barriers – just changing someone’s attitude.
This trope shames and blames the person with a disability – you don’t have a disability, you have a bad attitude.
- “Supercrip”, the ‘good cripple’
- Triumph over tragedy/adversity
- Overcoming disability
- ‘In spite of’ disability
- Hero, warrior, inspiration
- ‘Can-do’ attitude
The Freak Trope
- Object of Curiosity
- Medical curiosities
- ‘Freak Shows’ to ‘Shock Docs’ (Shocking Documentaries)
The Sinister Trope
- ‘Mad Scientist’, ‘Evil Genius’
- Angry about being disabled
- Incapable of love
- Obsessed with world domination/power/revenge
The Disability Superpower
- Disability Superpower
- Unfair advantage?
As an athlete yourself, do you sometimes identify with Pistorius?
I’ve been accused of cheating. I loved the accusation because the day before, I was a cripple, and they were tapping me on top of my head — “Oh, you’re just so courageous.” That’s so demeaning. Then the moment a person with an unusual mind or body becomes competitive, it goes from “Aren’t you courageous?” to “You’re cheating!” The difference is performance.
Hugh Herr – MIT Engineer, Biophysicist, inventor of bionic legs
We are challenging our false binary categories of :
For those interested in the signs’ message above, here is the actual picture:
We should strive to understand people and not stigmatize individuals. Awareness and openness is the best philosophy.
For more information contact Director of Disability Services, Margaret Camp at email@example.com