Our discussion in class, which began as a discussion on the films that each of us reviewed and the role of media in affecting the perspectives or people in society quickly turned into a discussion on suicide and assisted suicide of people with disabilities. Why do people with a disability who express a desire to die receive society’s support, but people without disabilities who express a desire to die get put into institutions or hospitals where their psychological state is evaluated? Why do we, as a society, see a person with a disability and assume that this person has a better reason to want to die than a person without a disability? Why do we see having a disability alone as a sufficient reason to want to die? I believe there are two large factors that contribute to society’s views. The first factor is the system of oppression that existed and in many ways still exists for people with disabilities causing a cycle of oppression and the second is the manipulation of media sources to portray disability in a particular way.
From my perspective, it is undeniable that people with disabilities have historically been discriminated against and as a result oppressed. People with disabilities weren’t seen as people. People with disabilities were hidden away either unable to leave their families’ homes or in segregated institutions, causing them to be denied access to education and jobs. This segregation also causes people without disabilities to not see people with disabilities as active participants in society, thus contributing to the assumption that people with disabilities are not really “people” or are not the “same” as people without disabilities. When this type of thinking is reinforced, society continues to believe there is reason to discriminate against people with disabilities. In many ways, this oppression continues today. People with disabilities are often put into segregated classrooms where they receive a less rigorous education. When these stereotypes are developed, people begin to fear having a disability; as a result, having a disability becomes seen as a reason a person would want to end his life.
The media’s portrayal of people with disabilities also contributes to stereotypes that lead people to believe that people with a disability have a reason to want to take their own lives. At times, I feel that the media is manipulated into printing stories that portray people with disabilities as vulnerable and helpless. The media then manipulates the general public, some of whom think that the media is printing unbiased news, into believing that what the media is distributing is an accurate portrayal of all people with disabilities. For example, the MDA telethon for Jerry’s kids used imagery of children with disabilities to evoke pity and sympathy from the audience, ultimately getting people to donate money. The people with disabilities shown during the telethon are used as an example of all people with disabilities and represented as such. This suggests to people in society that they should pity all people with disabilities. People with disabilities, portrayed in television shows and movies, focus on limitations the person has or on “overcoming” the disability. Society is led by these images to believe that people with disabilities are vulnerable and weak. As a result, many in society refuse to acknowledge disability as an identity or as an integral part of a person, but instead something that a person “suffers” from. I would assume that most people do not want to suffer and do not want to be pitied. Society, who is constantly faced with these manipulating images, then begins to believe that a person with a disability would be able to justify taking his life.