An Analysis of Televised Presentations of Disability

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Three hundred and seventy-four thirty-minute television segments were observed in an investigation of televised portrayals of disability. These segments were randomly distributed across three time blocks and the three major networks. The presence/absence of disability was recorded using a twenty-second partial interval recording procedure. The definition of disability was restricted to the observation of an orthosis or prosthesis for support, protection, mobility, and/or spinal stability. Observations of disability were further evaluated to provide information regarding the focus of the presentation (i.e., irrelevant to plot, relevant to plot, or thematic) and the affective valence of the presentation (i.e., positive, neutral, or negative).Disability content occurred in less than 1% of approximately 23,000 intervals observed. Most presentations of disability were irrelevant to plot and neutral in affective valence. Although certain variables, such as network and time of day, appear to be statistically related to the occurrence of disability, the extremely low frequency of disability-related presentations suggests that no single variable is meaningfully related to the presence of disability on television.

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