When you work with kids, and particularly kids with disabilities, you become acutely aware of all the social, environmental and attitudinal barriers that can, and sometimes do, impede their participation and success. Of course, there are the obvious day-to-day challenges, but after a while you become frustratingly aware of the multitude of factors that influence outcomes for a child.
So when I first read about Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory (wiki blurb here, and pretty picture here), I had a bit of a lightbulb moment. In particular, I became highly interested in how representations of people with disabilities in the mass media influenced social perceptions and attitudes towards people with disabilities. There are some big thinkers with big ideas in this area; if you’re interested, some names to look up are Stephen Safran, Martin F. Nordern, Robert Bogdan and E. Keith Byrd. The academic reading on this subject is enlightening and challenges your own responses, perceptions and assumptions, so don’t be afraid to dip into it!
Anyway, one lightbulb moment led to another, and soon I was writing my own overviews and reviews on the subject (A Child is Waiting, Freaks) and eventually questioned how these theories of representation would manifest themselves in the brave new world of social media, and completed a research project on it (in retrospect, I would have done it differently, but live and learn). It really piqued my curiosity, and I was excited about the possibilities of how disability advocates could harness the power of old and/or new media for good instead of evil…
…Then I finished my Masters and went back to teaching a class and didn’t have time to scratch myself for two years.
But now I have a bit more breathing space again, and today, when I stumbled across this blog post I felt that familiar spark of curiosity flair up again (bad timing – the day before school goes back. Argh!). While I won’t have time to immerse myself in the topic like I did a few years ago, I think it’ll be easy enough to take a bit of time out each week or so to at least watch a film or two and provide a critical analysis of it from a disability perspective. This will allow me to at least keep my head in the space until I have time to really dive headfirst into it.
Then would come the part about how to practically apply this knowledge. And there are so many options! The British Film Institute has created an absolutely fantastic teacher resource called Disabling Imagery? – A Teaching Guide to Disability and Moving Image Media. It provides teachers with detailed lesson plans as well as an explicit set of instructions for facilitating the unit of work in a school. Developing something like this for an Australian school context, perhaps even as a teacher-training package or something for a specific area such as ASD, in collaboration with disability advocacy groups, would be really exciting.
Or there are other options. Something like running a disability film fest. There’s The Other Film Festival in Victoria, but it wouldn’t have to be as big as that. Something small and cozy would do.
And then there’s the social media realm…oh, where to begin there?! The search for the perfect meme that can infiltrate the masses and change opinions and behaviours? (something like the Embrace Life clip, perhaps?).
Anyway. All that’s a long way off. For now, I only have time to watch a few movies and make a few critical observations. I’ll enjoy it, it’ll give me something to blog about, and who knows…maybe somebody, somewhere, will look at Rain Man in a very different way next time they watch it.