Leeds Beckett University
TheRepresentationOfDisabilityInTheBritishPress-REYNOLDS_redacted.pdf (20.24 MB)

The representation of disability in the British press

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posted on 2022-11-11, 14:29 authored by Lucy Reynolds

The use of the suffix ‘dis’ connotes negativity which often implies misfortunate or unfortunate situation or circumstances. In the case of disability, ‘dis’ connotes the opposite of an individual’s ability. You are either able or not able presenting a binary representation of disabled people. This representation according to Swain is “Cliché, stereotyped and archetypal” (Swain, 2004: 100). Worrell believes that representation of disability is often negative and the effects of these representations have consequences on the social construction of disability. This is more apparent for people with physical disabilities, hearing impairments and cognitive disabilities. First hand accounts articulate social exclusion, stigmatisation and oppression as a result of the complex dynamics of media representations. Worrell however, opines that the media often influences society while the content of media is equally influenced by society (Worrell, 2018). 

This research offers an exploration into people’s perceptions of the representations of disability and disabled people in the British press. It will investigate how journalists represent disabled people and the justifications for these representations. A qualitative approach was employed, implementing focus group discussions and semi-structured interviews with people who have experience with disability. Additionally, a directed content analysis was conducted. The study argues that journalists adopt detrimental narratives through the technique of framing; these include patronising tones, sympathetic tones as well as an exclusionary discourse. These perceptions influence the socially constructed identity of disabled people through the way in which journalists frame stories. 

The major findings reveal that disabled people are represented in the British press with a; patronising tone, sympathetic tone and exclusion. While the reason they are represented in this way is as a result of; the perceptions of disability and unexpected achievements. The study also demonstrates the reasons that British press write about disability in the way that they do. These factors include; awareness of disability, disability avoidance, lack of understanding about disability, sensationalised stories, editorial pressure and diversity of opinion and biases. These factors influence journalist’s comments and educational content of the British press.

The study also reveals the impact that the stigma of disability has on the rights and the voice of disabled people, promoting marginalisation and inequality. Drawing on the insights generated in this research, the affirmative model that was originally proposed by John Swain and Sally French (2000) could be implemented by journalists. This will allow journalists to write in a way that has a positive impact upon the representations of disability i and validate the experiences of disabled people. Furthermore, the affirmative model would improve the representations of disability and disabled people in the British press and allow journalists to embrace disabled people’s individual identity and differences. This study contributes to the growing body in the research of the representations of disability in the British press and the validity of the affirmative model.


Qualification name

  • PhD


Frost, Nick ; Laughey, Dan ; Alia, Valerie

Awarding Institution

Leeds Beckett University

Completion Date


Qualification level

  • Doctoral


  • eng


Leeds Beckett University

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