How is ableism shown in media and books for children? Characters with disabilities are often portrayed as the villain and a living being who is thought to be dissimilar to characters without disabilities.

Disabled characters in media tend to be seen as mentally and/or physically “different” than those who are not disabled. The disabled characters usually work a lot harder than not disabled characters. An example of this can be seen in the Disney film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Quasimodo, the main character in the movie lives in the bell tower of Notre Dame and is trapped there because of his job as a bell ringer of Notre Dame. He wants to associate and socialize with other people down in the city but cannot because he is “trapped.” Maybe this is implying the fact that there is distance existant between disabled and not disabled individuals? In other words, this scene can implant an idea on the viewers that disabled people can only LOOK at not disabled people but not socialize with them. With this in mind, disabled characters generally work harder than any other characters. This is because these characters tend to have goals they want to accomplish in their life but takes extra time compared to others due to their disability. Additionally, Quasimodo’s name means “half-made.” Does this mean that disabled people are “half-made?”

On the other hand, ablelism shown in children’s books illustrate to the readers that disabled people should be treated “differently” and “gently” because they are “fragile.” The book called, My Friend has Autism by Amanda Doering Tourville and Kristin Sorra informs the readers about autism. This book illustrates certain things that people with autism cannot do instead of things they can do. Therefore, it limits the readers into only being informed of the things they cannot do. Although this book informs the readers on the different symptoms and incapability’s for people with autism, listing down things they cannot do emphasizes that they are “different” and need special care. This is because people without autism can do things people with autism cannot do. What does this teach children? Does it teach them that disabled people need help from not disabled people ALL the time or that disabled people are capable to fight for themselves and assistance is needed only when asked by them? Race cannot be strongly related with these ideas because disability can technically happen to anyone anywhere around the world.

I think gender differences are present based on ableism as well. Disabled male characters tend to be violent, aggressive, “monster-like”, and uncontrollable. However, disabled female characters usually have weak, fragile, and independent images. Why is it that women have such delicate and breakable related images while male characters have the complete opposite ones? Gender stereotypes perhaps? Why cannot female characters be independent and strong like male characters? Society says that is not “possible.” For this reason, society today should reflect back on what kind of images and/or ideas they have had for disabled individuals and stop discriminating against them.


Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame Movie


Book Cover







2 thoughts on “Ableism in Disney & Books

  1. Hey HB, great topic selection. Reading your post brought a few more questions to mind than answers! Something that I have noticed in children’s literature and television is the introduction of a token disabled character to the story line. In a similar way, many popular television shows (for children and adults alike) have token black characters. Token characters usually play a small supporting role, never the lead. To me, using disabled characters in stories just for the sake of having a disabled character is actually hurting more than it is helping. What I’d like to see is more popular television shows where the main character has a disability, and is not treated differently because of it. A good example of this is the show “Sue Thomas, F.B.Eye”. Sue Thomas is the female lead, a detective, who is deaf. Here’s a quick clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlIsT6m-ka0 . I see this character as progressive. She is disabled, has maintained her agency, and is empowered. If only she were a person of colour, too! Have you (or any other of my fellow bloggers) heard of any other shows with disabled characters who aren’t a product of tokenism? I’d be interested in checking some out. E.M.

  2. Hey E.M, a point you brought up in your comment reminded me of something I said in my last response paper. I totally agree with you in that including disabled individuals in stories “just to have” is more hindering than progressive. I also want to mention the example I used in my paper, which was Jena in Pretty Little Liars. I’m not sure how familiar you guys are with the show, but Jena is a character who loses her sight after an accident. Within the span of a different episode, she has an operation and her vision is restored. I personally didn’t like the way the story line of the show plays with her ability/disability to see. It sort of trivializes the actual struggle that people with vision impairments really go through. If blindness was that simple to correct, everyone would be getting these quick fix surgeries everyday.
    Another example of how television and media can warp the true details of ableism and disabilities.

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