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Pushing Australia to change its attitude to people with disability

2 December 2020 at 6:58 pm
Wendy Williams
Meet the NFP working to ensure that there are more realistic inclusions of people with disability across all forms of media

Wendy Williams | 2 December 2020 at 6:58 pm


Pushing Australia to change its attitude to people with disability
2 December 2020 at 6:58 pm

Meet the NFP working to ensure that there are more realistic inclusions of people with disability across all forms of media

Research has shown that the biggest barriers people with disabilities face are the negative and limiting attitudes held by the general community. This is something the Attitude Foundation has decided to tackle head on.

Set up in 2014, the Attitude Foundation is shaping a new understanding of disability through the promotion and development of media content that provides realistic portrayals of people with disability. 

The aim is to have more stories about people with disability, told by people with disability – ultimately changing society’s attitude. 

In particular, the foundation is hoping to challenge three common misconceptions: that people with disability are only objects of inspiration, pity or tragedy; that an individual’s diagnosis or impairment is the barrier to their participation in society; and that all impairments have obvious physical characteristics. 

Foundation CEO Matt Field said he believed the media was the most powerful and quickest route to changing those attitudes.

“The first step to improving outcomes for all sectors of the community is to better represent diversity on our screens,” Field told Pro Bono News.

“That goes a long way to lifting the self-regard of people with disability but also to educate and inform society about some of the harmful attitudes or limiting attitudes [they hold].”

He said while there has been some improvements, there was still a long way to go.

He pointed to shifts in the UK and US, where there has been increasing representation of people with a variety of disabilities on screen.

“And not just in roles where the disability is relevant but where it is irrelevant as well,” Field said. 

“That is starting to change here, but not fast enough.”

He said there was still a tendency to “fall back on old tropes” such as inspiring stories or pity stories, or even stories where people with disability are seen as the “evil cripple”.

“Those tropes that still exist out there are quite harmful,” he said.

“What we want to do is be at the forefront of producing types of media that promote a social model of disability and lead the way in the broader screen sector.”

To help achieve its aim, the foundation last year commissioned a three-part documentary series, Perspective Shift, to highlight the challenges for people with disability including experiences of marginalisation and discrimination and the unique perspectives people with disability bring to their chosen field or industry. 


A young artist working on a tactile art piece while seated in a production setting. Text, "SBS presents, Perspective Shift, Exploring new dimensions in the arts". Taste Creative and Attitude Foundation logos are  displayed.


The first series explored the triumphs and trials of three of Australia’s top practitioners in the arts industries – actor Daniel Monks, artist Prue Stevenson and dancer Jana Castillo – who also happen to be people with disability. 

To mark International Day of People with Disability on Thursday, the foundation is now looking to challenge young people in particular to contemplate the effect of unconscious bias and how best to address it.

It has launched new learning tools for high schools to sit alongside the Perspective Shift TV series, providing students and teachers a way to discuss how disability is usually depicted by the media.

Field said it was a great opportunity for Australia’s young people to think about disability and inclusion with contemporary and interesting materials.

“If we are to change community attitudes to disability, it is vitally important that we change what young people are told about disability so we can see those important shifts in perspective become embedded in our future,” Field said.

After delays due to COVID-19 restrictions, the foundation is also wrapping up production on the second series of Perspective Shift, which will focus on three people with disability working in STEM sectors.

Field said the work they were doing behind the scenes was as important as the work on screen.

“Really the goal with the content is to document their employment journey and the barriers they have faced along the way but also to highlight successful, inclusive practice as well,” Field said.

From pre-producing to post-production, everything is done with accessibility and inclusivity front of mind, and the subjects are in control of the framing.

“In that way we’re presenting a case study for the broader media sector on what really good inclusive practice looks like on set and on screen as well,” Field said.

They are working to encourage production sets to think differently and be more accommodating to people with disabilities and to have a conversation with them about what they need in order to do their job effectively.

“At the end of the day it always comes back to what their needs are and what they need to do their job properly,” Field said.

But Field, who said they also have a podcast in the pipeline, cautioned that one project alone is not going to solve the problem.

“It is about implementing a sustainable model of content production where everything that goes out under our name is the best practice approach to creating media that improves outcomes for people with disability,” he said.

“It’s great that we produced the series and had some really good feedback, but is it the end of the journey? Absolutely not.”


SBS is screening the Perspective Shift series in the lead up to International Day of People with Disability. 

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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One comment

  • Dianne Turner says:

    Maybe it’s time people with a disability changed their mindset too; instead of being a disabled person, I am a person with an inconvenience.
    What we project to others is often the way others perceive us.

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