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Disability in Media
Disability & Art
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Disability Culture

You have been exploring many of the circumstances which have influenced popular culture's views and presentations of disability. The *mainstream media* has had many contradictory notions about disability -- some accurate, and some distorted.

An important new culture has emerged during the last two decades. People with disabilities are emerging as artists, writers, and performers with something new to say about the experience of being disabled. The culture and media these artist/activists are producing has come to be collectively called Disability Culture.

In a 1996 article for Mainstream magazine, Steven E. Brown described the relationship between disability community and disability culture. "People with disabilities have forged a group identity. We share a common history of oppression and a common bond of resilience. We generate art, music, literature, and other expressions of our lives and our culture, infused from our experience of disability. Most importantly, we are proud of ourselves as people with disabilities. We claim our disabilities with pride as part of our identity. We are who we are: we are people with disabilities."

Probably the single most important factor in creating the Disability Culture movement has been the emergence of the Disability-Rights and Independent Living movements. These civil rights movements brought disabled people together, helped to create a group identity, and nurtured ideas about pride and choices and rights, all important themes in the the Disability Culture movement.

While the political disability-rights community promoted policy changes to expand rights and opportunities, cultural workers told truths about living with disability, and put forward visions of equality embracing difference.

Playwright Kathleen Tolan, in an article for American Theater magazine (April 2001) entitled "We Are Not a Metaphor," explains how disability culture or, as she and other participants call it, "crip culture" takes a new approach to portraying disability: "In the same way that the Black Power movement in the '70s insisted on the unique power and beauty of African Americans, or the women's movement empowered women to expose stereotypes and tell their own stories, the disability rights movement and 'crip culture' are challenging our preconceptions about what it is to be human."

Disability Culture deals in many different themes, and diverse aspects of the disability experience. Some of these themes include:

  • Pride
  • Group solidarity in the disability community
  • The complex and rich experience of living with a disability.
  • Anger about the way disabled people have been treated and portrayed.

Not all artists, writers, and performers who have disabilities are helping to promote disability pride and disability culture. Some of these creators do not deal with disability themes at all. However, these people may still serve as important as role models to other aspiring artists who have disabilities. Also, some nondisabled artists have created compelling explorations of different aspects of the disability experience.

Disability is a complex, diverse phenomenon which is being explored in different ways by all kinds of artists, writers, and performers -- most eloquently by cutting-edge creators who can draw on their own experiences of disability. Artists, writers, and performers with disabilities continue to enrich our culture immensely.

Check out the following links to meet some individuals who are producing Disability Culture, and see some examples of their work:

Moving into a new millennium, people with disabilities have forged a sense of identity, and a determination to resist segregation and discrimination. Along with that political consciousness, people with disabilities are developing a cultural consciousness, and are learning to use the media for truth-telling and self-expression.

Laura Hershey has written: "No community can survive and thrive for very long solely on the strength of lobbying, legislation, litigation, and protest. As important as those things are, something more is needed to feed a people's quest for identity and autonomy, and to change a minority group's relationship to the larger society.

"Art allows us to articulate more than we ever can with argument. With art, we can state not only what we want, but who we are. We can explore our own souls and psyches, even as we reveal our humanity, our diversity, our experiences and our aspirations to others.

"I'm not saying that art should replace activism. On the contrary, the two are mutually necessary."

(Next - Disability Culture Profile: Cheryl Marie Wade )

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