Three-D Issue 19: Report from the Disability Studies Network

Irene Rose
Liverpool John Moores Univ.

MeCCSA DSN was pleased to co-organise this year’s Liverpool Comedy Trust Annual Comedy Festival Debate hosted by Liverpool John Moores University. This free public event was well attended and drew delegates from across the length and breadth of the country. Contributors included Paul Betney (standup comedian), Laurence Clark (actor and comedian), Dr. Tom Coogan (Birmingham University), John Cooper (character comedian) and Peter Keeley (screenwriter).  Sam Avery (Director of Liverpool Comedy Trust) chaired the event.

The range of contributors ensured a variety of perspectives were covered and questions from the floor were in good supply. The debate was lively and topics covered included the accessibility of comedy venues, making jokes out of impairment and disabling experiences, the importance of context to ‘getting the joke’ and the differences between disabling humour and disability humour. Of particular interest was the discussion of differences between audience reactions to comedians creating humour from congenital impairment compared to those creating humour from acquired impairments. Panellists concluded that non-disabled audiences are much more comfortable laughing when impairment is at a safe, congenital distance.

It was noticeable that debate on the day returned to concerns raised at the previous DSN event regarding changing public attitudes towards disabled people. Attendees and panellists alike gave personal testimonies of recently experiencing increased public hostility in response to their impairments. Delegates cited negative press coverage and the return of ‘benefit cheats’ and ‘scrounger’ discourse in the press as the cause. This discussion reflected the findings of the EHRC report and Glasgow Media Group’s report publicised at the last DSN event. These reports highlighted a worrying juxtaposition between ‘systemic failure by public authorities to recognise the extent and impact of harassment and abuse of disabled people’ (EHRC, 2011, Executive Summary, 3) and public overestimates in disability benefit fraud where respondents estimated fraud to be as high as 70% whereas the DWP’s own figures estimated a total of 2.4% in 2010/11 (£130m) (DWP Information Directorate, 2011).The group deliberated on the potential of the Paralympics to help reverse such adverse public attitudes and the day closed on a note of stoic optimism. 

Future events

Future DSN events will be addressing representations of disability and the 2012 Paralympics and will be publicised via the MeCCSA and MeCCSA-DSN lists and the network Facebook page.

In the interest of sharing important research with our MeCCSA colleagues please see the links to reports below:

The Executive summary for the EHRC’s ‘Hidden in Plain Sight: Inquiry into disability related harassment’ is available here:

Full and accessible versions of the EHRC report are available here:

The full report Bad News for Disabled People: How the newspapers are reporting disability commissioned by Inclusion London and undertaken by the Strathclyde Centre for Disability Research and Glasgow Media Unit is available here:

Further evidence of disabled people’s increasing concerns over the rise in hostility in reporting fuelled by the Government’s austerity discourse is available in the Disability Rights UK report (August 2012) ’Press portrayal of disabled people: A rise in hostility fuelled by austerity?’ available here:

DSN Steering Group Members:

Dr. Alison Wilde, Bangor University

Deborah Williams, Arts Council England

Irene Rose, Liverpool John Moores University

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