Representations of disability in the Canadian news media: a decade of change?
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PURPOSE: To assess stability and change in representations of disability and persons with disability in the Canadian news media between 1998 and 2008. METHOD: The study replicated research conducted in 1998 that assessed the representation of disability in the Canadian news media. Following the earlier study, three newspapers were selected (Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and Toronto Sun) and all articles from a three-month period in 1998 and 2008 were assessed for disability content. In total, 362 articles were found in the two time periods. These were coded for structure and content using a schema developed in the earlier research. RESULTS: Between 1998 and 2008, there was a significant increase in the proportion of stories using "person first" language, and a significant increase in the proportion of "progressively" themed articles (e.g. dealing with barriers to participation, or disability awareness and inclusion). At the same time, there were significant differences between newspapers, with the Toronto Sun (a tabloid) maintaining a strong focus on "traditional" themes (e.g. special education, charitable provision). CONCLUSIONS: The differences in news media representations between 1998 and 2008 suggest a positive change in the way people with disabilities are represented, with greater attention to the complexity of their identity and their multiple social roles. IMPLICATIONS FOR REHABILITATION: The participation of persons with disabilities in society continues to be limited by negative attitudes. Media reporting has a significant influence on public attitudes toward disability. In a content analysis of three Canadian newspapers, this study found several significant changes in the language and content of disability-related articles. Together, these changes provide some evidence of more favorable media representations of disability. Further research in rehabilitation is needed to understand how such changes may both reflect and facilitate ongoing efforts to enhance people with disabilties' participation in social life.
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