What people see in the media shapes a person's identity and perception, writes Letters from New Straits Times, New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd. A part of Media Prima Group.
Every country is struggling to incorporate disabled characters on the small and big screens. This is also the case in Malaysia.
It is a bigger issue than what most people think. Representation, no matter in what shape, way or form, has its importance. It not only shows support but also raises awareness of the disabled.
Society lacks awareness and understanding of people with disabilities. The representation can address these issues when more characters with disabilities, whether visible or hidden, are shown on screen.
A short dialogue on disabilities in a television show could go a long way. This could raise awareness about the topic and educate viewers.
Presenting the disabled in an ordinary environment on television is also a significant move.
Most shows or movies in Malaysia use disabled people as an object to make a point that usually has to do with the plot of the content.
If they were to incorporate these characters into their content, as they would any other character, it could change society's views about them. People with disabilities are ordinary human beings with just a bit of difference. With better awareness, perceptions can change and people will stop looking down on people with disabilities.
That said, people with disabilities in Malaysia have never given a reason for them to be looked down upon. We have a strong and powerful team of athletes representing our country in Paralympic events.
Muhammad Hairul Miran is a blind bowling player who has participated in sports events. He won four gold medals in the ASEAN Para Games 2017.
Representation is important for the disabled. When they see only people with perfect health and senses on television, they may feel that they lack certain qualities.
Getting disabled persons to play TV roles can enhance how they feel about themselves and, in turn, build their self-confidence.
Children with disabilities who struggle with self-esteem issues, too, will benefit.
In the animated series, "The Little Mermaid", the mermaid character has an amputated arm. The creator had incorporated the disabled aspect to show how real these people are, even in a fantasy setting.
A little girl, whose hand has been amputated, saw the series and was ecstatic to see a character that looked like her. Authentic representation in the media industry will provide disabled people with a channel where their voices can be heard.
Showing such issues on a mainstream channel is easier to get people's attention than if a disabled person were to voice them out. Every disabled person has a background and story, so it is wrong to assume that everyone is the same, no matter what his condition or disability is.
Talking about the diversity of disabilities helps to break discrimination or stereotypes society has against this group.