The Fries Test on disability representation in media

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Yay! A new disability representation test!

I’ve done several presentations about disability representation in the media at disability studies conferences and in college classes. And I’ve expressed a lot how I’m sad that the Gold Test for disability representation in films was the only media test that I knew about. I’m on board with how films come to fail the Gold Test, actually. But nowadays, I think more films should be getting the failing grade than this test allows for. I just haven’t had a really pithy way to explain it. Lo and behold, someone just sent me The Fries Test. And while it seems focused on writing, it works perfectly for films, TV, radio, and everything else. And this isn’t just for media makers. This is for anybody who’s interested in consuming media too.

Please visit the article on Medium for a wonderful description of The Fries Test. Also, to my extreme delight, the Medium article is also audio recorded!

Here are the rules of the test by Kenny Fries: “Does a work have more than one disabled character? Do the disabled characters have their own narrative purpose other than the education and profit of a nondisabled character? Is the character’s disability not eradicated either by curing or killing?” Ugh. They’re so good!

Why do I care so much about media while the GOP is attempting to gut Medicare? Because as long as we have films like Me Before You dominating the narrative of life with disability, it’s hard for some non-disabled people to care whether real disabled people live or die. Hence the reason many of us lovingly renamed the film to be Me Before Euthanasia. The movie shows us how the non-disabled people benefit from the death of a cripple. Death is shown as salvation and a relief for the disabled character, and that makes it easy to think it’s what everyone should and does want. It’s hard for people without the experience of it to recognize the intersecting experiences of disability and poverty, police brutality, caregiver neglect and assault, and the ways communities of color often aren’t given the same care and intervention that white communities are. The problematic stuff is inspiring garbage like high school football stars asking a student from special ed that they don’t even know well to prom and getting praise for it. Problematic stuff is seeing middle and upper class white people acquiring disabilities and then killing themselves off (or magically becoming non-disabled). When we have that problematic stuff more than we see disabled pepole just living, how can we expect people to broaden their imaginations?

You can find more outstanding tips and links to more info and people at this great Medium article on taking the Inspiration Porn Resolution and R. Larkin Taylor-Parker’s tumblr post on inspiration porn in the media. (Hint: The resolution is that you will not use or share inspiration porn about disabled people and disability experiences.) Following the links will give you a very good explanation of what Inspiration Porn is. It’s super common in mass media and social media. Also, of course, check out the late Stella Young’s captioned TEDx Talk, “I’m Not Your Inspiration, Thank You Very Much.”

And thank you very much to Kenny Fries for this disability representation test!