The example, Young (2014, 00:03:15) sees that this “lie”

The role of social media in shaping perceptions of
physical disability amongst young people


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The reported use of the internet for
social networking increased to 96% for 16-24 year olds in the UK in 2017
(Office for National Statistics, 2017). Therefore,
as the influence of social media continues to grow, the formations of attitudes
and opinions towards physical disabilities can progressively be understood as
being shaped by this institution. In this study I propose to examine the
representations of physical disability on social networking sites and what
influence social media have on shaping the opinions of young people.

Literature review

(1996, p. 22) recognised the “distinction between the physical
impairment and the social situation, called ‘disability'” thus the
understanding of the term ‘disability’ often becomes centred around the idea
that those with an impairment are in some way disadvantaged. These social
conceptions are reproduced through social media content, for example, Young (2014,
00:03:15) sees that this “lie” is “propogated… via social media” through
what she identifies as “inspiration porn” (00:03:56). This is
particularly prevalent through the emergence of a meme culture on social media,
as Liddiard (2014, p.1-2) states “maintain ableist notions”





fundamental aims of this study are to observe the impact social media content
may have on opinions of physical disability amongst young people and further
build upon the research carried out in regards to this particular issue in the
digital age.

Research Questions

1.      What
is the image of disability produced by social media?

2.      What
is the impact of social media on young people’s perceptions of disability in


Research design and methodology

intend to adopt the interpretivist theoretical perspective for the data
collection of my research through, first of all, the use of qualitative content
analysis of social networking sites, followed by semi-structured interviews with
a group of 24 participants.

According to Krippendorff (1980,
p. 21), content analysis as a research method has the “purpose of providing
knowledge, a representation of facts, new insights, and a practical guide to
action,” I will therefore be carrying out content analysis of
the social media sites ‘Instagram’ and ‘Twitter,’ using semiotics to decode the
meanings of online posts and responsive comments to such content. Braun and Clarke (2006, p. 13) see that
“Inductive analysis is… A process of coding the data without trying to fit it into a pre-existing coding frame, or the
researcher’s analytic preconceptions,” this will be the approach used in my
analysis as the great range of content on these platforms is such that it
may limit me to use pre-existing categories (as is common in the ‘deductive’
approach) in order to determine the general image of physical disability that
is produced from online posts. Bryman (2016, p. 303) also recognises that there
is no “reactive effect” caused by content analysis as those being analysed are
unaware that their online comments are being used for research which may
otherwise “threaten… Validity” (Webb et al, 1966, p. 15) and harm my ability
to form rational judgements.

second method I will be employing upon collecting and categorising the data from
the content analysis will be semi-structured interviews, specifically
addressing the second of my research questions. The selection criteria of
participants in this study will be: (1) Participants must be between the ages
of 15-19 at the time of the interview; (2) Participants must have active user
profiles on either Instagram or Twitter; (3) Participants must be able-bodied. The
framework will be designed as a guide which covers the following topic areas:

Impact of social media on respondents’ own attitudes
or opinions on physical disability.

Respondents’ own experience of representation of
physical disabilities on social networking sites.

opportunity to ask non-planned questions allows for the utmost flexibility
(Patton, 2002) for both the researcher and the participant if, for example, the
individual requires verbal clarification of what has been said. With one of the
primary focuses of my study being attitudes towards physical disability, semi
structured interviews will also be beneficial as I will be able to assess the
language used by interviewees, a significant element in gaining insight into
their values.


ethical considerations when carrying out content analysis and semi-structured
interviews must be evaluated before I begin my research.

of the ethical issues I must consider before I begin content analysis Firstly,
content analysis potentially violates the right to privacy of those producing
the social media content being analysed. Consequently, I must consider the
necessary precautions to be taken in order to prevent the risk of exposure of
individuals’ identities during data collection, and due to the use of verbatim
quotes being published. I will therefore seek informed consent, distributing
forms before beginning the interviews, providing information explaining to
potential participants what the research is about, what their role will be in
the study and assurance that they may withdraw from the research for any
reason. Furthermore, as it is important that individuals understand the
potential negative implications of their participation, they will be informed
that while names will be omitted, comments made may be published within the
research findings.

Interviewer bias may also be an
issue as this involves participants responding with answers they believe the
interviewer wishes to hear, or making comments which seem impressive or
acceptable in the disability discourse, which may harm the validity and
applicability of the data. To overcome interviewer bias, telephone interviews,
instead of face-to-face interviews as there is a reduced opportunity for the
participant to be influenced by expressions or body language. Likewise, such an
interviewing method will be more practical as gaining access to participants
may be difficult and a suitable time can be more easily negotiated.


to the sample population being limited to 24 participants within the 16-24 age
range, in one regional area, my findings can not be generalized to the larger
youth population in England. However, with the sparse research in relation to
the question of the impact of social media on young people’s
perceptions of disability in England, this study could provide a foundation to
encourage further research to take place.


Hermanowicz (2002, p. 498)
remarks that “while interviewing is among the most central, revealing and
enjoyable methods that one can use in research, it is deceptively difficult”.



The proposed study is
necessary in further understanding the extent to which social media impacts
individual opinions on larger issues such as