Dr. Amy Sekhar lectured Tuesday about the Representation Matters movement, the importance of authentic disability in the media, and increasing diversity in disability representation.

Sekhar spoke about the lack of diverse representation in the media. In 2015, just over 25% of roles went to people of color in top films. Asians and Latinx were even less represented.

 In 2016, less than 1/3 of protagonists were women. Sekhar added that underrepresentation is damaging, and tropes, one-dimensional and inauthentic representations are damaging also. This concern in the media is mostly prevalent with disability.

It was shown in the presentation that there were far more non-disabled people playing disabled characters in film, or what Sekhar called “crippling up,” in films such as “Ray.” 

In these films, disabled people tend to die at the end of the movies, teaching people about “life” and “inspiring” the audience in some way, such as in “Forrest Gump” or “Rain Man.” 

Disabled characters are portrayed in some movies as “creepy, evil or magical”, such as in “Lord of the Rings.”

Debbie Huckabee, the Coordinator of Disability Services and Student Support Services at ISU, spoke about the issues and importance of disability representation and awareness in a college campus setting.

“This is the third year for the Disability Awareness Committee,” Huckabee said. “We are trying to get more representation, presentations and workshops to bring a lot of the things we examine today to the forefront, and educate our students and our ISU population.”

When non-disabled actors play disabled characters, this causes albinism within media, and objectification of disabled people, being portrayed as an “inspiration” for able-bodied people. 

This representation is extremely damaging and infantilizing.

“It does a disservice,” Huckabee said. “Sometimes we do stereotype, and that’s not quite fair. So we need to have a better understanding, and the only way to do that is through education. That’s why a lot of disability awareness events have been very helpful, and to the students who have attended these… I think that our particular ISU culture is probably more tolerant on a campus than it is in general public. I feel like our students, staff and faculty who have disabilities are probably better off on a college campus because we are very diverse here, and you don’t always see that in many local communities.”

Huckabee also mentioned the progress of ISU’s disability awareness. 

“I feel like what we’ve done here, and what I’ve done through my work, has also grown exponentially over the last many years…when I first started, there was not an awareness at all.” Huckabee said. “There were lots of misconceptions about people with disabilities, and it’s really not fair because many students with physical or learning disabilities are extremely bright, and have many wonderful gifts to be able to offer.

Sekhar ended the lecture with the phrase “I’m not your inspiration,” in response to the harmful objectification of disabled people in the media, along with saying “Seeing yourself reflected is empowering even when you’re not a child… It is important that disabled people are controlling the narrative.”