Social Images of Disability in Lithuanian Daily Newspapers

Rita Raudeliūnaitė, Diana Šavareikaitė


Social images of disability are one of the most important problems in the psychosocial structure of the phenomenon of disability. It allows not only to analyse the prevailing trends, approaches or values, which are constructing disability, but also to identify the conception of disability, which is accepted in a particular society as a result of certainsocial representation of disability, methods of integration of people with disabilities, actions of social policy, the rate of social exclusion or inclusion of people with disabilities. Not every individual encounters disability personally, therefore, the cognition of this phenomenon occurs through intermediaries. Mass media (television, the press, internet and others) most frequently serve as such intermediaries. Mass media not only reflects certain constructs of social reality, but also possesses the power to create them. Therefore, to a large extent, public opinion, attitudes and behaviour encouraged by them depend on the ability of mass media to select, define and present certain phenomena. The attitude towards the disability presented in mass media influences the formation of the identity of the disabled, the perception of the social phenomenon of disability and determines the status and roles of persons with disabilities in society.
Current scientific discourse shows that research on social images of disability is relevant. According to Ruškus and Mažeikis (2007), this research may facilitate revelation of definitions of (ab)normality, how disability is structured and what models of behaviour and relations with persons with disabilities are presupposed. It has been noticed that the representation of disability most frequently contains negative connotations because of the associations ascribed to disability. Therefore, in striving for full integration of people with disabilities into society, it is necessary to identify destructive constructs and replace them with a change-centred attitude.
The goal of the research is to reveal peculiarities of social images of disability, which are represented in the daily newspapers of Lithuania. The method of document analysis was chosen, which allows for an objective evaluation of the nature of disability constructs published in the daily newspapers during the determined period. The qualitative and quantitative content analysis of the selected texts was conducted applying the method of document analysis. The article focuses on presentation of results of qualitative analysis of articles published in daily newspapers. The qualitative content analysis was carried out following the inductive logic of building categories that is based on research data. Conducting qualitative content analysis, the following sequence was observed (Creswell, 2009): repeated reading of the content of the selected articles, identification of meaningful elements in the analysed text, grouping of meaningful elements into categories and sub-categories, integration of categories into the context of the analysed phenomenon and description of their content. The four biggest national daily newspapers (Lietuvos Rytas, Lietuvos Žinios, Respublika, Vakaro Žinios) were chosen for empiric research. The newspapers were published during the period from January 2009 to May 2010.
During the analysed period, 136 articles on the topic of disability were found in the four daily newspapers of Lithuania. The biggest proportion of information on the theme of disability consisted of informative reports; the lack of educative information and information based on scientific facts was observed. The qualitative analysis of articles on disability in the daily newspapers revealed the continuing prevalence of a clinical attitude towards disability: disability as a medical pathology, a loss, a source of problems, the otherness, limited personal opportunities; a person with a disability is seen as  a dependent of the state, s/he is weak and requires care, support or treatment. On theother hand, images of disability as identified in the newspaper articles reflect the social attitude towards disability: disability as a common part of life, persons with disabilities are full-value members of the society; information on the achievements of people with disabilities, their activity and social involvement are also presented.


disability; people with disabilities; social imagine; mass media; newspapers

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"Social Work" ISSN online 2029-2775 / ISSN print 1648-4789