Help! Ever since I learned about the moral view of disability, I’m seeing it everywhere. It’s gotten to where I can’t watch horror movies. Don’t get me wrong. I love to get scared out of my tree. Unfortunately, horror movies insist on showing people with disabilities as either frightening or special. Why can’t they portray someone with a disability as a regular person, like my daughter for instance?
The Moral View Of Disability: Saint or Sinner
In case you’re wondering what I’m talking about, I’ll back up a little. The moral view of disability is the false idea that people with disabilities are morally different from others. People with disabilities are pre-judged to be either especially good or especially bad because of having a disability. They are not allowed to be regular people. Instead, people with disabilities are labeled as either special angels, innocent and worthy of charity or as frightening, evil and worthy of ridicule. Literature, legend, religion and language have all played a strong role in spreading this stereotype throughout society. Now let’s look at just a few examples of how this harmful viewpoint continues to be driven home again and again by the popular media.
Review #1: “The Village” (movie)
In this “blockbuster,” we have to endure both stereotypes (people with disabilities are devils– people with disabilities are angels) all in the same plot. A small isolated village lives in fear of a monster that legend says lives in the surrounding woods. Early on, a gruesome stabbing is committed by – surprise – a person with a cognitive disability (devil stereotype). Later on, this villain turns out to be that mythical monster. And who comes in to save the day? A hero who just happens to be blind (special angel stereotype.)
Review #2: “Kingdom Hospital” (15-part TV series)
Stephen King is a favorite author of mine, so I just had to watch his Kingdom Hospital. Initially, I was pleased to see two young adults with Down Syndrome play small parts. But my antenna went up as the weeks went on – there was obviously something we didn’t yet know about these two. Guess what we find out in the last episode about the only two people with disabilities in the whole movie? That they’re evil? No, but good guess. Try again. They’re special angels? Right! They’re not regular people at all–they have special saintly powers.
To be fair, I should point out that this type of stereotyping is not at all typical for King. I certainly hope he can avoid such harmful portrayals of people with disabilities in the future.
Review #3: Practically any book by Dean Koontz
After reading a couple of his books, Koontz is now completely off my escape reading list. Every person with a disability who enters his plots is frightening, evil, devilish, and a menace to society. Attention any readers out there who know Dean or live near him: how about inviting him to a self-advocacy conference. Not only could he meet some regular people, but perhaps he would also find some new and frightening villains for his plots – like SCAPEGOATING, STEREOTYPING, DISCRIMINATION and SEGREGATION.
What Can We Do About It? Here’s my plan. I’d like to hear from other ex-fans of horror movies. I’d like to assemble a list of movie and book reviews. It would be great if folks would send in their examples of how movies and books portray people with disabilities as evil, or as special angels, or as regular people. Perhaps as a warm-up at your next meeting, folks could brainstorm about movies they’ve recently seen that fit this description. Send me what you come up with, and I’ll put it on our website (see details below).
This article first appeared in October 2004 as a weekly email memo of the Self-Advocacy Resource Network. The responses received since then are as follows:
Judie Hockel of California writes: Horror shows disgust me, but I have a daughter who is an actor who has Down Syndrome, so I taped a couple of episodes of Kingdom Hospital just to see how they used actors who have Down Syndrome. I found that even in fast-forward this show was repulsive. It disgusted me that two people with disabilities were contaminated by appearing in this series; I didn’t even watch enough to know about the final stereotypical representation as other-worldly beings! The National Down Syndrome Congress, at their August convention in Minneapolis, gave the producers of this series its National Media Award. Too bad.
Lynne from Louisiana writes: I agree with Kathy on the stereotypes of people with disabilities in the movies and books. I am an advisor for an Advocacy Group and sometimes I am so excited that a person with a disability is even in a book or movie I overlook the stereotyping!
Don’t forget Stephen King’s book and movie, “Dreamcatcher” where a man with Down syndrome is a major character but again has “special” powers. On a good note you may want to check out an excellent science-fiction book called, “The Speed of Dark” by Elizabeth Moon. I have met Ms. Moon and the book was inspired by her son who has Autism. The book is set in the future where people with Autism can take a drug and the Autism is gone. But do they want to change who they are and be what society calls “normal”?
Margaret Forbes of Biddeford Maine writes: I appreciate the diverse comments such as the parent of the daughter as a regular person verses stereotyping. If I could make a movie it would be about a success/attractive married couple, perhaps where the husband of this pair has a developmental disability. They have executive jobs, with children and a lovely home and are seen as valuable members of the community…. But these are the opportunities that are denied, avoided and by some – feared. Thanks for the chance to dream.
Here are three ways readers can follow up:
1. Send your movie reviews to Kathy at email@example.com
2. Request the free weekly email memo by writing to Advocating Change Together at firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Read the reviews that readers are sending in by visiting www.selfadvocacy.org/SARN/index.htm