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Faking disability

7th July 2008

Tiaho Trust
Jonny Wilkinson

Faking disability

On Sunday night TV One News broadcasted a story on phone giant Telecom using a fake company to endorse its products. The gist of the story was that the company and the after work party wasn’t real, there were actors involved and therefore it was fake advertising.

The faking involved in this advert was nothing compared to the crass portrayal of someone with a head injury in the New Zealand Land Transport advertisement broadcasted recently.

When disabled people are focused on in mainstream media it is either in the frame of charity ie “What a terrible situation, we must give or help” or “Haven’t they done well despite the adversity of their impairment”.
It is very rare when disabled people are portrayed as adding value in their own right like any other citizen.

At Tiaho we were initially pleased when we saw a disabled woman promoting cars with side curtain airbags to prevent head injuries in a Land Transport NZ advert. We thought, great, good insight using a disabled person to add strength and embellish a message.

And then we found out that Land and Transport New Zealand used an able bodied Australian actress. How patronising! It was like tucking in to a nice potatoes salad and chomping into a large piece of eggshell. How long had the actress spent mimicking people with head injuries?

LTNZ spokesman Andy Knackstedt said the use of an actor did not make the advert misleading. "It's all about making the link between the types of injuries you can suffer and the type of injury that can be prevented," Knackstedt told Sunday News.

But isn’t Andy Knackstedt totally missing the point? If the add agency used someone with a head injury wouldn’t the link between not using side curtain airbags still be made? In fact wouldn’t the link be stronger and have some integrity?

The BBC in start contrast has launched a controversial new series which follows the lives of eight young disabled women trying to make it as models.

Based on the highly successful format of the America's Next Top Model franchise, Britain's Missing Top Model is a six-part series selling itself on the catch-cry "Stylish, sassy, chic ... disabled?"

The show's creators and judge, U.K. Marie Claire editor Marie O'Riordan hoped the series would challenge pre-conceived notions of beauty and challenge our attitudes to disability.

Media is a powerful tool. When media companies opt to pay for actors and actresses to imitate disability it sends an incredibly negative message to the public.


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