Engender has been working with University of Stirling student Caroline Darke on a project exploring some of the issues around the representation (or rather, lack) of women with disabilities within the mainstream Scottish and UK media. This project connects with Engender’s on-going commitment to achieving gender parity within the Scottish media, and our Disabled Women: Our Bodies, Our Rights project, which examines the rights of disabled women and their reproductive journeys within current social care practices and government policy.
For this final blog, I met with the Glasgow Women’s Group from People First: an advocacy organisation run by and for people with learning disabilities. I wanted to ask the women their opinion about some of the images I found during this research project and how these representations make them feel.
Initially, I had hoped to focus specifically on depictions of sexuality and motherhood in order to link more directly with Engender’s Disabled Women: Our Bodies, Our Rights project. However, given the time limitations of my project, the high sensitivity around these issues, and that fact that I was able to find so few positive images and stories relating to disability and female sexual identity and/or motherhood in the UK media, I decided to open the discussion up to also include mainstream representations of disability in relation to female body image and cultural stereotypes, as discussed in some of my previous blogs.
The group I interviewed comprised of seven women aged between 23 and 67. They had a variety of different needs, disabilities and life experiences and were supported at the meeting by People First support worker, Sandra Graham. All of the women interviewed have previously taken part in workshops with organisations like Values into Action and Zero Tolerance, on themes such as body-image, self-image and personal safety, so they were well-versed in thinking about issues around disability and representation. None of the women in the group were mothers themselves, though many talked with pride of their roles as step-grans, great-aunts and aunties.
Here are some of my key findings from the interview:
Interestingly, the first thing the group talked about regarding the Alison Lapper documentary, was:
Unfortunately, this particular scenario clearly corresponds with one of the key findings of the Disabled Women: Our Bodies, Our Rights research so far, which evidences how much more likely it is for mothers with disabilities to have their children taken away from them by social services, or healthcare professionals, than non-disabled mothers/families. It is therefore understandable that this would be a topic that would resonate most strongly with the group. In fact, one of the other members said that the main reason she had not had children herself was because she was afraid that any child she had would be taken away from her, just like she was taken away from her own mum.
At the end of the session, I asked the group if they would be able to draw me a picture of how they would most like to be seen or represented themselves. Not all of the group contributed to this activity, but I think Rosie’s drawing says it all…
I would like to say a huge thank you to Sandra Graham and all the women from the People’s First Women’s Group for enabling this interview to take place; for giving me their time and for sharing their thoughts, opinions and personal experiences with me. The encounter has been of immense value to my research and I hope that your words will help positively influence how women with disabilities are perceived and represented in future UK press and media.
 I found only one article within my Nexis search: Chan, E (20 March 2018) Disabled mother-of-three who lost her left hand in a horrific house fire as a baby finally achieves her dream of becoming a model after facing years of abuse from strangers, Mail Online, Femail section, and only three additional examples in other media: Alison Lapper in Child of Our Time (BBC1, 2000- now), The Woman with the Remarkable Body (Channel 5, 2005)and Equally Different (A campaign by Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2015), Anne Wafula Strike and Tanni Grey-Thompson
 See Engender’s Disability Project Background Research paper (2016), in particular, the quote from Sigurjonsdottir and Traustadottir (2010) cited in Tilley, L, Walmsley, J and Atkinson, D ‘The Silence is Roaring’: Sterilization, Reproductive Rights and Women with Intellectual Disabilities, Disability and Society, Vol 27, (3), May 2012, p5
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