Is the media’s portrayal of disability a help or a hindrance?

Posted by hct16 at Oct 24, 2012 03:00 PM |
One-day conference at the University of Leicester to examine the media’s representation of disability issues
Is the media’s portrayal of disability a help or a hindrance?

Dr Paul Reilly

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 24 October 2012

To what extent can the media help us think differently about disability in ‘Broken’ Britain?

Does the media’s role help or hinder the campaigns of activists and charities aimed at influencing government policies that affect disabled people?

The University of Leicester’s Department of Media and Communication is hosting an event at Embrace Arts in the Richard Attenborough Centre on November 9 which will examine these issues and provide an agenda for future research in this area.

‘Mediating Disability in Broken Britain’ brings together local policy-makers, media, politicians and activists in a one-day symposium examining the media representation of disability issues against the backdrop of the government’s ‘Big Society’ project and welfare reform. The venue, Embrace Arts, is one of only two purpose-built fully inclusive arts centres in the East Midlands.

The symposium is part of the Festival of Social Science, run by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The festival runs from November 3 to 10.

In order to set an agenda for future research, the event will draw on the perspectives of local and national politicians, disability charities, activists, and social science researchers. Confirmed speakers include:

•  Anne McGuire MP (Shadow Minister for Disabled People)
•  Robert Adamson (Liberal Democrat Disability Association)
•  Councillor Manjula Sood (Leicester City Council)
•  Sue Marsh (Broken of Britain)
•  Marc Bush (Head of Research and Policy, Scope)
•  Julie Howell (Giraffe Sense Mentoring)
•  Filippo Trevisan (University of Glasgow)
•  Dr Anna Claydon (University of Leicester)
•  Dr Emma Briant (University of Glasgow)
•  Dr Vicky Tolfrey (Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sports)
• Jayant Mistry (former paralympian)

The event has been organised by Dr Paul Reilly, a University expert in politics and new media with a specific interest in how social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter can be used by disability activists to enhance their communication strategies.

Dr Reilly commented: “We hope the event will provide an opportunity for stakeholders to debate how the media can reframe disability in such a way as to empower disabled people and help these groups shape future policy-making.

“The media framing of disability has arguably become even more crucial as public spending cuts and reforms to benefits such as Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) begin to affect disabled people. Recent campaigns to highlight disabled people’s issues such as #spartacusreport have appeared to gather momentum in online spaces rather than through traditional media outlets.

“The news media is often criticised by these groups for its negative stereotyping of disabled people, and television depictions of disability often appear tokenistic or circumstance specific – for example, the Paralympics.”

The event will be held at Embrace Arts at the Richard Attenborough Centre, University of Leicester campus, Lancaster Road, Leicester, on November 9 from 10.30am to 4pm.

Contact Dr Paul Reilly at for details of how to register.

For further details about the symposium see the website:


Notes to Editors:

Further details are available from Dr Paul Reilly, Department of Media and Communication, University of Leicester, tel 0116 252 2829, email:

The Festival of Social Science is run by the Economic and Social Research Council and takes place from 3-10 November 2012. With events from some of the country's leading social scientists, the Festival celebrates the very best of British social science research and how it influences our social, economic and political lives - both now and in the future. This year’s Festival of Social Science has over 180 creative and exciting events across the UK to encourage businesses, charities, government agencies, schools and college students to discuss, discover and debate topical social science issues. Press releases detailing some of the varied events and a full list of the programme are available at the Festival website. You can now follow updates from the Festival on twitter using #esrcfestival.

Biographies of speakers

Dr Emma Briant

University of Glasgow

Emma Briant webpic

Dr Emma L Briant is an honorary research fellow at Glasgow University Media Unit. She worked in 2011 on 'Bad News for Disabled People' collaborative research between the Media Unit and Strathclyde Centre for Disability Research, commissioned by Inclusion London. The research examined the changing media coverage of disability that accompanied the Coalition Government’s austerity cuts. Emma completed her PhD on Anglo-American 'War on Terror' propaganda at Glasgow University in 2011 and is currently working on this for publication. She is also co-authoring the book 'Bad News for Refugees' with Media Unit Research Director Prof. Greg Philo, work commissioned by the International Red Cross. (See:

Dr Anna Claydon

University of Leicester


E. Anna Claydon is Director of IDeoGRAMS and lectures in the Department of Media and Communications, specialising in film and music. It was IDeoGRAMS’ seminar series in 2009-10 which instigated this portfolio of projects on disability in the media and Anna’s recent work on disability in the media has been upon the voices of impaired characters in film, the Channel 4 series Cast Offs and community interactions via the BBC’s Ouch! website and twitter feeds. Other recent work has been concentrating upon music in film serials and the detective in TV. Anna has worked at Leicester since January 2006. From 1993-7 she was based at the University of Exeter, from 1998-2001 at the University of Kent and 2001-2005 at Edge Hill University. She is a Fellow of HEA and founding member of the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies.

Filippo Trevisan

University of Glasgow


A native of Italy, Filippo abandoned the sun in 2006 to study media and politics in Glasgow. He holds an MSc in Political Communication and an MRes in Public Policy, both from the University of Glasgow, where he is currently completing his PhD. Filippo’s work focuses on the relationship between new media and political organisations, including interest groups, advocacy and non-profit organisations, and social movement collectives. In particular, his PhD discusses the use of online media by disability rights groups in Britain and in the United States. While carrying out research in Washington, DC in 2011, Filippo joined Georgetown University’s American Studies Program as an affiliate researcher. Before returning to academia, Filippo worked as a journalist for the English service of Italy’s biggest private news agency based in Rome, and as a parliamentary assistant at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.

Filippo’s research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).


For more information:

Anne McGuire MP

Shadow Minister for Disabled People

Anne McGuire

Anne McGuire was elected to the House of Commons in May 1997.  She served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Donald Dewar, then Secretary of State for Scotland, from November '97 to July '98. In July '98, Anne became an Assistant Government Whip and was appointed a Lord Commissioner to the Treasury in June 2001. In June 2002 she became Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at The Scotland Office.  From 2005 until October 2008 Anne was Minister for Disabled People at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).  In 2009, the Stirling MP became a member of the Privy Council.  Anne served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Ed Miliband, Leader of the Labour Party from October 2010 to October 2011.  She was also a member of the Public Accounts Committee from July 2010 to October 2011.  She has now been appointed as a member of the DWP Shadow Team, with responsibility for disability issues.

Robert Adamson

Liberal Democrat Disability Association


Robert Adamson is the Chair of the Liberal Democrat Disability Association. He has been a candidate for Europe and Westminster and in local elections. Robert has also trained civil servants and emergency service personnel, produced award-winning videos, and authored many training books. He also helped develop an internationally acclaimed model for inter-personal skills training. He has had Multiple Sclerosis since 1974 and obviously has a keen interest in disability issues. He lives in Yorkshire with his wife, Eileen. He has been married twice before and has 2 adult daughters from his first marriage. His second wife also had MS (and sadly died as a result) so Robert has experience as a carer.

Councillor Manjula Sood

Leicester City Council


Manjula Sood MBE is Assistant Mayor for Community Involvement, Equality & Diversity. She was elected to Leicester City Council in 1996 after the sudden death of her husband, who was a county and city councilor. A graduate of the University of Leicester, she was the first female Asian Lord Mayor in the United Kingdom and is currently the Chair of Leicester Council of Faiths and the Regional Ambassador for Sport England. She has received a number of honours including the National Merit Award, Doctor of Laws (University of Leicester, 2008) and Doctor of Letters (De Montfort University, 2012). She has fibromyalgia and is a member of the Health and Well-Being Board.

Dr Marc Bush

Head of Research and Public Policy, Scope


Dr Marc Bush has been Head of Research and Public Policy at Scope since 2007. He was previously a research consultant for a number of NGOs and was a Board Member of the Communication Trust and trustee for the Children’s Rights Alliance England. He obtained his PhD in Sociology from the University of Surrey in 2010 and has a specific interest in social research. 

Julie Howell

Giraffe Sense Mentoring


Julie Howell has been campaigning to improve the rights of disabled people in the digital age for the past 20 years. For RNIB, she led campaigns to increase blind and partially sighted people's access to key digital services, including, government websites, the BBC and major British banks. Under her own steam, she founded an online community of people with multiple sclerosis in 1995. Still thriving today, Jooly's Joint has helped more than 60,000 people with MS live more positively with the condition. In 2006, Julie was technical author of the first British Standard specification for web design and is recipient of five lifetime achievement awards. In 2012, she is Brighton University Alumnus of the Year and has founded her own business - Giraffe Sense Mentoring - with the aim of helping others develop greater confidence in campaigning and public speaking.

Jayant Mistry

Former Paralympian and Deputy Wheelchair Tennis Manager for LOCOG


Jayant Mistry was Deputy Wheelchair Tennis Manager for LOCOG in 2012. He won 68 International career titles including the inaugural Wimbledon Doubles Championships and Doubles Masters both in 2005.

Jayant represented Great Britain at wheelchair tennis for 20 years, from
1988-2007 and competed at 4 Paralympic Games. He holds the record for the most consecutive World Team Cup (Davis Cup) appearances - 20 in total. Mayan is the 1st and to date still the only British male wheelchair tennis player that reached the top 10 in the world (singles) and he was ranked there for 12 years (1995-2007). He was also the British number one during that period.
Jayant now works as the East Midlands Inclusive Sports Development Officer for the English Federation of Disability Sports.
Jayant is a councillor for the Lawn Tennis Association, a player Ambassador for the International Tennis Federation and has been involved in their development programmes bringing wheelchair tennis to Lithuania, Romania and India.

He has been a commentator and expert analyser on wheelchair tennis for the BBC and in 2007 was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Loughborough University for his outstanding contribution to Paralympic and Great Britain Tennis.

Jayant, who lives in Leicester, also coaches at Leicester Cobras Wheelchair Basketball club.

Dr Vicky Tolfrey

Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport


Dr Vicky Tolfrey completed her first degree in Sport Science at Manchester Metropolitan University in 1993 for which she was awarded the Exercise and Sport Science Department prize for best all-round Sport Scientist. Following this, Vicky was appointed as the Project Assistant for the British Wheelchair Racing Association (BWRA) whilst completing a part-time PhD. In 1999, she completed her PhD entitled 'Pushing economy and wheelchair propulsion technique of wheelchair racers'. After completion of the work with the BWRA, Vicky went on to work with the Great Britain Men's wheelchair basketball team for four years. Vicky is a BASES Accredited and has provided applied sport science support to Paralympic athletes since 1994. She has attended the 1996 Atlanta, 2000 Sydney, 2012 London Paralympic Games and supported athletes at the Cyprus holding camp for Athens 2004 and the Far East holding camp for Beijing 2008. She acts as a sport science consultant for the Great Britain Wheelchair Basketball Association and served as a member of the International Paralympic Committee Sport Science and Medicine Group 2005-2010. In 2005, Vicky received a BASES Award for Good Practice in Applied Sport Science and in 2011 was awarded a BASES Fellowship for her work in Disability Sport and mentorship of others in this area. Also in 2011, Vicky and her colleagues from the School were awarded a 3-year Coca-Cola Active Healthy Living Grant with a research focus to encourage disabled people to become ‘fit for life, fit for sport and fit for success'

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