La Trobe
OPAL_accepted manuscript July2021.docx (155.49 kB)

Media portrayal of spinal cord injury and its impact on lived experiences: a phenomological study

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journal contribution
posted on 2021-07-27, 23:50 authored by Leanne ReesLeanne Rees, Merryn SherwoodMerryn Sherwood, Nora ShieldsNora Shields
Study design: This is a qualitative, phenomenological study.
Objective: To investigate media portrayal of spinal cord injury (SCI) as perceived by people with SCI and explore its impact on their lived experience.
Setting: People with SCI living in Australia.
Method: Twenty-four participants, recruited using purposive and snowball sampling, completed in-depth, semi-structured interviews. Thematic data analysis followed an inductive, iterative process.
Results: Participants perceived media portrayed SCI through a narrow lens, describing how people with SCI were ‘absent’ or portrayed as either ‘pity or pedestal’. Participants said media portrayed an inaccurate picture of their lived experience that perpetuated misunderstandings of SCI. This portrayal fostered unreasonable public expectations and assumptions about living with SCI, which presented in the participant’s lives as uncomfortable interactions and inappropriate remarks. The impact for participants was a burden to explain SCI and justify what it meant for them. People with SCI would like media to portray a broader, more authentic representation of SCI to improve public understanding and to reduce the negative impact on their lives.
Conclusion: People with SCI perceived a narrow and inaccurate portrayal of SCI in media that overlooked potential quality of life, overshadowed health and life domains they considered important and reinforced the idea that SCI can be overcome. People with SCI were mostly concerned with what was absent in media portrayal of SCI rather than what was present. Action for change lies in promoting information, expanding narratives and raising awareness to diverse abilities of people with SCI.


This work was supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.


Publication Date



Spinal Cord






(p. 504-511)





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