An examination of disability stereotypes in medical dramas before and after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Communication


Department of Communication


Advisor: Teresa L. Thompson


This study involved the collection and analysis of data coded from medical dramas that aired before the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and after the enactment. Specifically, the study looked at Medic, Marcus Welby, Ben Casey, Emergency, Dr. Kildare (all pre-ADA), and ER, Grey's Anatomy, China Beach, Chicago Hope, Mercy, and Becker (all post-ADA) to determine whether the ADA served as a turning point in the representation of people with disabilities on medical dramas from 1954 to 2014. A content analysis was conducted to investigate the occurrence of potentially stereotypical communication patterns and behaviors among characters with disabilities and those who interact with them as well as the prevalence of common disability stereotypes throughout the years studied. Three main disability stereotypes were examined: Supercrips," meaning those seen as extraordinary for doing ordinary things, "Quasimodos," defined as those seen as angry, evil, and miserable, and "Tiny-Tims," those seen as fragile, yet bright-eyed /cheerful. It should also be noted that, in the context of this study, disability was defined as it is under the Americans with Disabilities Act: a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity such as walking, seeing, hearing, and breathing. Paired t-test results showed the prevalence of each stereotype in medical dramas in relation to the others studied. Independent samples t-tests results showed differences in portrayals of disability as well as in the portrayals of those interacting with people in pre- versus post-ADA medical dramas. These differences included changes in the expression of opinions, level of praise given and received, and level of sadness/disappointment shown."


United States. Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, People with disabilities in mass media, Medical television programs, Stereotypes (Social psychology) in mass media, Communication, Journalism, Mass Media, Disability Stereotypes, The Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA, Medical Dramas, Disability Portrayals

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Copyright © 2014, author