Graduation Year


Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Human Services and Rehabilitation Studies

Faculty Advisor

Susan Scully-Hill


People with disabilities in motion pictures, Stereotypes, Social psychology, Public opinion of people with disabilities, Sociology of disability


Film portrayals of people with disabilities have had a significant, but perhaps unnoticed, role in shaping the general public views of individuals with disabilities. Research has documented the impact of films on creating and perpetuating misconceptions of a variety of disabilities and disability groups. Numerous stereotypes are portrayed in films depicting the lives of people with disabilities, which lead to barriers that keep people with disabilities in marginalized roles. Much research has been conducted on films produced prior to the year 2000. These studies have identified the themes and stereotypes portrayed that have been harmful to the lives and empowerment of individuals with disabilities. This current research attempted to study if and how the depictions of people with disabilities has changed after the year 2000 and after the passing of significant legislation prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities. This study analyzed twenty films representing four disability categories (physical, psychiatric, sensory, and intellectual/developmental). This study attempted to determine if these laws or other social justice initiatives have had a positive impact on the portrayal of disabilities thus having a positive impact on the millions of Americans with disabilities. The review of a random sample of films depicting characters with disabilities has demonstrated improvement in the portrayal of disabilities but that there is still much room for more accurately representing characters with disabilities. Implications of this research include providing education and disability awareness to filmmakers on how people with disabilities can be more accurately portrayed.