By Alison Wilde
The MeCCSA Disability Studies Network was established earlier this year after discussions, over several years, with both creative practitioners and people working in Cultural/Media and Disability Studies. As part of this process a number of significant concerns arose relating to cultural imagery and barriers to disabled people’s inclusion.
Most of all then, it is our intention that the Network will be a valuable step in promoting critical work on disability concerns within cultural and media studies and also in addressing inequalities within the academy. The formation of the network comes at a critical time, when both Higher Education and disabled people are facing uncertain futures.
The significant under-representation of disabled people in education and the cultural, media and arts industries is likely to be exacerbated by the onslaught of welfare cuts and insidious new media images of disabled people as abject, invariably as a drain on scarce resources. On a more positive note, the first meeting of the network was held at the MeCCSA Annual conference in January 2010 where the general aims and objectives were discussed.
Since then, several steps have been taken to invite further participation and discussion and to plan future events and activities. Considerable interest has been shown in the network, both nationally and internationally. We are hoping that more MeCCSA members will subscribe to the MeCCSA jiscmail group. The Network has attracted a large number of disabled and non-disabled people from a wide variety of backgrounds, including academics, media practitioners, performers, and students.
We have 170 members on our Facebook group and are hoping for increased discussion through the Currents in the Mainstream website. Our current mission is to support and promote the development of research into, and teaching of, Disability Studies within Media Studies; and to provide a space to support and promote the work of disabled academics, lecturers, researchers and media practitioners working, or intending to work, in Higher Education.
We hope to identify and discuss the barriers facing disabled people in all these fields and find ways of challenging the constraints placed upon disabled people’s employment opportunities. We also intend to develop and promote research and publications in the fields of media, film, music, communications and cultural studies in relation to disability.
We want to promote research into disabling imagery, examine the disabling aspects of media institutions and academic research, counteracting stereotypes, prejudice and disabling practice and enhancing cultural equality in the academy and elsewhere. We are setting up the Network to be as participatory as possible and to facilitate the sharing of ideas and information.
We hope to develop links and dialogues with other relevant networks. ‘Currents in the Mainstream’ The MeCCSA Disability Studies Network held its inaugural conference ‘Currents in the Mainstream’ on the 22 September 2010, at De Montfort University, Leicester. This conference was concerned to evaluate the complex issues at stake in contemporary representations of disability and impairment from a variety of critical perspectives, and to investigate new trends in the representation of disability and impairment. We invited submissions on the topic of disability imagery in the 2000s, especially in relation to new or changing representations of disability, disabled people’s participation within these processes, and the impacts of new media and changes in production, distribution and reception.
The conference drew from all these areas, and presentations submitted included papers on the consideration of disabled peoples’ identities, work on ‘authenticity’ of art and disability representation, television drama/comedy, film, journalism and theatre, analysis of the ‘nondisabled gaze’ and work on the media’s depiction and ‘toleration’ of madness.
The contributions came from academics, students, performers and artists. Alongside keynote presentations from Deborah Williams and Sonali Shah, presentations included Bob Williams-Findlay’s examination of how the politicisation of disability images have impacted on the news stories of The Guardian and The Times, and a consideration of industry practices in Eliza Varney’s paper, ‘Disability Voices in the Regulatory Realm? An Examination of the ICT Sector in Canada’.
It is hoped that the conference has strengthened the Network, drawing in a wider variety of experiences and perspectives. In so doing, we hope to be in a position to run a bigger conference next year. We also hope to attract more members from within MeCCSA and to forge links with DAO and other networks. We believe that by doing this we can contribute to greater inclusivity within MeCCSA. We welcome discussion of, and new ideas relating to, the Network’s future goals and activities.