Disabled characters saturate the media – Captain Hook, Dumbo, and Quasimodo possess the common thread of being characters in popular Disney films. What is often unnoticed is that these characters are the first exposure a child may receive to disabilities.
Associate professor of educational psychology, Kathy McMahon-Klosterman, and professor of sociology and gerontology, Jean Lynch, discussed “Disability as Diversity” April 5 at the Miami University Art Museum.
“We receive a diet of stories before we are consciously aware of our surroundings that equate disability with evil and bad,” McMahon-Klosterman said.
They presented the audience with what they said is a realistic view of the social construction of disability in America and how society develops images of disability partly through media.
“The media teaches us stereotypes that (disabled people) are cruel (as in Captain Hook) really nice (as in Tiny Tim), or can get better if they work hard enough,” Lynch said.
According to McMahon-Klosterman, there are 50 million Americans with disabilities who experience marginalization in schools, work and social life.
She said disability is a normal part of life, and it is part of normal human diversity. There are both visible and invisible disabilities. One can be sitting next to someone with a disability and be unaware.
McMahon-Klosterman and Lynch are both working to make Miami’s campus welcoming and inclusive to disabled individuals.
By teaching the topic of diversity, these women want people to be well educated and to understand the disabilities that exist.
“After attending their lecture, I have a new outlook on what life is like for people with disabilities and how the media helps mold our warped perceptions,” said Katherine Bouloukos, a sophomore mass communications major.
McMahon-Klosterman added that there is a broad range of human abilities. Society needs to change the social constructions of disability, and treat those that have a disability as more “normal.”
“Disability is really about other people’s perceptions,” Lynch said, agreeing.
McMahon-Klosterman referred to the term “supercrit” to describe the way a person with a physical disability is expected to demonstrate how he or she overcame that disability, rather than simply living his or her life as a citizen, with all civil rights intact.
She used supercrit in reference to the “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” superhero exhibit currently being displayed at the Art Museum alongside the new disabilities awareness exhibit, “Destination Anywhere.”
To aide awareness of young adults with disabilities, “Destination Anywhere” is an annual traveling art display sponsored by an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center which features work by 15 young artists between the ages of 16 and 25.
Though no Miami students are involved, McMahon-Klosterman sees displays such as this as a pivotal step in helping people better understand disabilities, especially in young adults.
“This is a visual art display that is art work by young people who have a disability and many of (those pieces of) artwork represents their identity in our culture as a person with a disability,” McMahon-Klosterman said.
The artwork was meant to be a reflection on a pivotal moment in each artist’s life as it relates to art and their respective disabilities.
The exhibit will remain at the Art Museum until April 27.