Written by a woman on the spectrum...
Can you paint with no color?
During this year's Disability Pride Month and beyond, many companies have continued to pledge their support for disability inclusion.
But, where is the walk behind the talk?
Our society is one that is becoming more and more dependent on technology and media. With knowledge literally at our fingertips, one would think people with even a modicum of curiosity and initiative could readily educate themselves. Unfortunately, few actually take the initiative.
Too many people choose to get their information from what they see on TV and social media. As a result, media becomes our reality.
Only 3.5% of on-screen characters have a disability, and 95% of those actors are not disabled in real life. In the rare instances when disabled communities are represented, they are often done so inaccurately, and it becomes a slippery slope of harm.
Let's take autism as an example. The few autistic characters that exist often perpetuate a stereotype that those on the spectrum are emotionless and less capable.
According to UN Rights experts, "As part of human diversity, autistic persons should be embraced, celebrated and respected. However, discrimination against autistic children and adults is more the rule rather than the exception."
In reality, autism is not something to be "cured". It is simply a different way of thinking that may require extra support, which is nothing to be ashamed of.
If the media embraced differences, rather than pushing them away, it destroys the "us and them" perception. Beliefs then begin to change, and injustices begin to lessen.
If you have the power to change representation in the media but choose not to, you're hurting us.
Imagine Van Gogh's masterpiece Starry Night - one of the most beautiful paintings in history. Its blue, yellow, green and black hues were arrayed with exquisite beauty through the mind and hand of an artist.
Imagine if Van Gogh was told: "you have ONE shade of blue, and you must produce a masterpiece for me." How would he do it?
It would be impossible. And the same goes with representation in media.
When we are limited to one color, you rob the world of a masterpiece.
And when we are limited to mostly portraying one type of person in the media, we are robbing the world of a masterpiece.
Luckily, you have a choice. Not only is proper representation vital for the safety and well-being of disabled communities, but it is a smart move economically. According to a study, "about half of US households support accurate portrayals of disabled characters and would sign up for a content distributor committed to disabled actors. Their spending power is estimated at $10.4 billion per month for US households." That's $125 billion a year. Compare that to the 2021 net worth of The Walt Disney Company - Disney's net worth is 130 billion.
By telling disabled communities' stories, the potential revenue per year is almost that of the entire worth of one of the world's largest and most influential companies! According to Respectability, "When you include their families, friends and associates, that total expands to more than $1 trillion."
1 in 4 Americans has a disability. It's time for the media to step up and deliver on empty words with meaningful follow-through: hire disabled people. Let them share their authentic stories. Listen to them when they say what you're doing is wrong, and change your ways.
People fear what they don't understand. Educate them with proper representation in the media and watch the world bloom in living color. When you let the colors in and change the narrative in the media, everything begins to change, and the world is better for it.
Without diversity, there is no art.
Can you paint with no color?
About the author
Bea Mienik is a 20-year-old performer, writer, musician, current NYU arts student and disability rights activist with TD1 and autism. Her mission is to change the way the world sees autism through proper and empowered representation in major media using the neurodiversity belief model. She also LOVES Marvel superheroes! Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
*All photos provided by Bea Mienik
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