Disability and the Media

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Disability and the media prescriptions for change

In the media today, people with disabilities are perceived as tragic heroes or as medical miracles. They are rarely seen for their intelligence or for their accomplishments excluding their overcoming disability hardships. The textbook, Everything’s an Argument, contains an excerpt from Charles A. Riley II’s book “Disability and the Media: Prescriptions for Change. ” Riley, a journalism professor at New York’s Baruch College, uses appeal to ethos, logos, and pathos to persuade his audience that their methods of portraying disabled people are in dire need of change.

Riley reports that disabled celebrities are seen as the object of pity, ultimately depriving them of feelings of normality. As well as pointing out the common cliches of disabled people in the media, he provides some guidelines that should be taken when portraying people with disabilities in the media. Ultimately, with the use of precise topic, relevant diction, and a serious tone, Riley impressively organizes and structures his writing to show that there is a need for change in the media and that the change is possible.

Therefore, he uses his rhetorical strategies effectively to persuade his audience into changing the way able-bodied people portray the disabled. Riley’s text gives a historical background, which is used as an appeal to ethos. He has won many awards for his work on issues involving disabilities. Along with his historical background, a list of books that he has written is provided. Knowing about his previous work, books, and awards provides the readers with a sense of trust in the author. Therefore, his appeal to ethos helps in his persuasion of getting able-bodied people to commit to change in the way they portray the disabled.

Throughout the text, Riley gives many examples of celebrities with disabilities and how they are inaccurately perceived through media. With these examples, Riley appeals to logos; providing his audience with evidence that some celebrities are not being perceived as normal humans, but as heroes in overcoming their disabilities. He writes, “In much the same way, Christopher Reeve and Michael J. Fox have been pigeonholed by print and television hagiographers as lab experiments and tragic heroes” (643).

Riley also emphasizes how the media ignores who these celebrities are and instead portrays them as an object of inspiration, “ Mullins’ “ inspiring’ saga is recycled almost verbatim by well-meaning journalists for audiences who never seem to get enough of its feel-good message even if they never actually find out who Mullins is” (642). This appeals to logos because he provides the evidence that these celebrities aren’t being seen as normal humans. Providing this evidence persuades his audience because it reveals that there are celebrities being shown in media in a biased manner.

This may be something able-bodied people do not realize and it entices them to change. Another device Riley uses to effectively argue his point is tone. Riley uses a very serious tone when declaring that disabled people are being portrayed as having “ill-fitted” body parts, “By jamming Mullins and the others into prefabricated stories—the superscript, the medical miracle, the object of pity—writers and producers have outfitted them with the narrative equivalent of an ill-fitting set of prostheses” (643).

This serious tone is effective because the audience senses that Riley feels strongly about how inappropriately the disabled are “used” to elicit sympathy for all crippled or handicapped people in the world. He also uses a respective tone when analyzing the trials that disabled people have had to endure, “An able-bodied person falls from grace, progresses through the shadows of rehab and depression, and by force of willpower along with religious belief pulls through to attain a quality of life that is less disabled, more normal, basking in the glow of recognition for beating the odds” (645).

With this tone, he effectively displays the hardships that a disabled person encounters which helps his argument. Along with tone, Riley uses diction as a way to effectively strengthen his argument. He uses such diction as “allegorical” and “hagiographer,” as well as providing the definitions or backgrounds of certain terms along the borders of the text. Using such words and providing their definitions gives the reader a sense of feeling that what they are reading is important. This helps make his argument effective because the reader will acknowledge the authors good sense of vocabulary and that alone will show he is even more credible.

The author uses this as an appeal to ethos because he is gaining credibility from his use of diction. One of the appeals that make Riley’s argument very effective is his appeal to pathos. He compares his appeal to how a person with a disability is displayed as a “poster child” in exchange for sympathy and donations, “bringing her financial rewards of sponsorships, motivational speaking gigs, and modeling contracts at the expense of being turned into a latter day poster child” (642).

This effectively supports Riley’s claim because the audience will now feel sympathetic for the disabled portrayed in the media as someone needing assistance or a sponsor. Another example is when he attempts to determine how much the media is demeaning disabled people as a group, “It is impossible to know the full degree of damage wreaked by the demeaning and wildly inaccurate portrayal of people with disabilities, nor is it altogether clear whether much current progress is being made” (645).

This emphasis causes the reader to feel pity for people with disabilities and elicits the audience to agree with Riley’s claim, which is that able-bodied are being portrayed inaccurately in the media. Through Riley’s use of appeal to ethos, logos, and pathos, he effectively argues his claim that disabled people in the media is being inaccurately portrayed. He presents a problem, discusses what should be done, and then gives examples on how that solution can be achieved. Overall, Riley uses his rhetorical strategies and diction to effectively argue that people with disabilities are not being portrayed appropriately.

Works Cited

  • Charles A. Riley. “Disability and the Media: Prescriptions for Change”. 2005. Everythings an Argument. 5th ed. Eds.
  • Lunsford, Andrea, John. J. Rusziewicz, and Keith Walters. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009. 641-650.

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