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Advertising's role in disability as a social process
Mary-Ann O'Donovan, Dublin Institute of Technology
Advertising is everywhere, not just in traditional mediums, such as TV, magazines, and billboards, but in non-traditional and ever more intrusive formats, such as beer mats, the back of receipts and mobile messages. It is an inescapable form of communication and one that promulgates an ideology of perfection, both in terms of body and lifestyle. The body has symbolic properties, which serve to communicate certain things about the individual and one key advertising message is that consumers should take responsibility and control their bodies to ensure that the body remains youthful, healthy and acceptable within the criteria set out by society.
Disabled people are noticeable in their absence from commercial advertising and it is yet another space from which disabled people are excluded. Alternatively disabled people are noticeable by their hyper-presence (Hevey, 1992) within charity advertising. It is anticipated that both the exclusion from commercial advertising and the over-representation through negative stereotypes in charity advertising have a role to play in the daily-lived experience of disabled people. There has been little recognition or indeed questioning of the absence of disabled people from mainstream advertising and what this means to disabled people, if indeed it means anything at all, and it is this question that forms the primary focus of the present study. As such, disability is considered a social process and the research questions the role of advertising in this process.
The research does not claim to be emancipatory but it is guided by the six principle tenets of emancipatory research as set out by Stone and Priestley (1996). At present, in-depth semi-structured interviews are being conducted with four disabled women and four disabled men. This is a two-stage interviewing process. Methodology and findings will be discussed as part of the presentation.
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