In a contemporary society where language plays a significant role in shaping social reality, discourse is not value-free. In other words, language can be used as a powerful tool to establish and maintain particular sets of ideas or ideologies. Values and beliefs, as many have argued (Corker & Shakespeare, 2002; Harpur, 2012; Rapley, 2004) are the products of social constructions and are shared, maintained and reproduced through discourse. Given the powerful function of language to establish and maintain ideologies, this paper examines how disability is socially constructed, represented and maintained through the media discourse, particularly in The Jakarta Post's articles published and circulated in January 2013 to April 2014. This paper opens with a brief historical, empirical and theoretical review of disability. It then continues with a discussion of the findings of the study and implications of the representation of people with disabilities in the mass media. This study has revealed that people with disabilities, in an Indonesia mass media discourse, are discursively constructed with a thematic role of a patient/beneficiary which is evident through the syntactic construction and the extensive use of ableist terminologies. This subtle representation indicates that the contemporary Indonesian media mass discourse maintains the medical and charity models of disability.


For quite some time, people with disabilities had been entirely viewed by their impairments, rather than by their other qualities (Tremain, 2005). Their disability tends to be understood in a medical model, in which their disability is seen as an "individual defect [that is] lodged in the person, a defect that must be cured or eliminated if the person is to achieve full capacity as a human being" (Siebers, 2008, p. 3). In other words, people with disabilities are narrowly labelled as flawed, thus, need intervention or to be "fixed" appropriately in order for them to be considered as "normal" and to totally function as a human being.

Labels based solely on impairments affect the social, cultural and political rights of persons being identified (Siebers, 2008). In fact, the labels and impairment-based-identity markers given such as "autistic person," "retarded," and "the blind" may limit the ability of people with disabilities to organize their social and political activities due to the fact that general people will primarily focus on the impairment and the limitation it may constitute rather than their other significant abilities (Tremain, 2005).

In addition, the medical model of disability creates the dichotomy of "abled" and "disabled" or the "normal" and the "abnormal," which are often understood as natural divisions. Such contrariety places the minority group (people with disabilities) in a socially, culturally and politically disadvantage position in which they are likely to be marginalized in terms of assessing their social and civil rights (Siebers, 2008), leading to higher occurrence of social oppression, discrimination and unequal treatment towards such a group of people (Barnes 1997 cited in Harpur, 2012).

Such social oppression and discrimination have led to resistance by activists and scholars (Siebers, 2008). This disability movement posited a social model of disability, which challenges the notion of disability as a detrimental effect of a flawed body. This model provides a new lens by placing disability within the social environmental context. Accordingly, disability is seen as a socially constructed phenomenon. The existence of this model, however, did not eliminate the medical model. These two models co-exist in the societies.

Rapley (2004) argues that the prevailing socially constructed ableist labels given to people with disabilities cause the problems rather than the so-called flawed body. To illustrate, a person with a wheelchair who uses their wheelchair to mobilize independently may be still perceived as "weak," and "unfortunate," thus pitied, even though with the wheelchair they move about freely. Consequently, the stigma of disability is not "the resulting of limitations caused by chronic illness, impairment or trauma, but by the way such matters are responded to and categorized by wider society" (Oliver, 1990 cited in Rapley, 2004, p. 63).

To further understand disability as a social construction, it is important to distinguish the words "impairment" and "disability." Impairment is simply defined as a condition where the body lacks particular parts and functions (e.g. limb, legs, arms, ability to produce speech, ability to think and to reason, and hence to live independently in a society). Disability, on the other hand, is considered as 'a form of disadvantage which is imposed on top of one's impairment' by the society (Tremain, 2005, p. 9). Consistent with Tremain, Jones and Peccei (1999) explain that the word "impairment" refers to a set of conditions, while "disability" refers to particular activities that might be difficult to perform due to impairments. Thus, when the society decides that particular people cannot undertake certain activities as the "normal" does, then the label "disability" is given. Such society's agreement about "normality" and "abnormality" therefore contributes to a stigmatized definition of disability (Rapley, 2004). If disability is thus socially constructed, so is normalcy. Disability and normalcy are products of social construction that includes a social agreement on what is normal and what is not normal. This construction is never neutral; and places the non-disabled majority in an advantageous position (Siebers, 2008, p. 4).

While disability studies have moved far from the medical conception of disability, the fact that the medical model has been rooted in the society cannot be neglected (Titchkosky, 2005). The medical conception of disability as "worthless," "lacking," "dependent" and "weak" still exists in daily discourses and has been much 'taken as natural kinds' (Rapley, 2004, p. 67).

This ableist conception of disability is not only constructed, but also is replicated and maintained through existing discourses, especially the mass media (Zhang & Haller, 2013). Given the growing popularity of mass media in contemporary culture (Thronborrow, 1999), and the role of mass media as a powerful site for the construction of social reality, and mass media's power to shape and influence its readers (Haller, Dorries, & Rahn, 2006), mass media is a critical site to influence ideologies.

A study involving 472 newspapers articles in Israel and Canada on the use of ableist and non-ableist language towards people with disabilities conducted by Auslander and Gold (1999) found that the use of ableist terminologies is prevalent in both countries. Another study in the USA (Haller, Dorries, & Rahn, 2006) reveals that despite the growing awareness of disability rights and terminology in the USA, terminologies that perpetuate limiting and narrowed stereotypes about people with disabilities are still predominant. Other empirical studies (Steele, 1997; Steele, Spence & Aronson, 2002 as cited in Zhang & Haller, 2013) found that there is a correlation between the use of ableist language in the media discourse and the underperformance of people with disabilities. In other words, the negative representation of people with disabilities with the use of ableist language circulating in the media discourse has limited people with disabilities from realizing their intellectual and talent potentials.

In Indonesia, where this study takes place, the negative representation of people with disabilities is apparent. Ableist labels circulate in daily conversation, newspapers or even on official documents. Some examples of these are such as kelainan [abnormality], tuna [a bound prefix which means loss of], cacat [defects/impairments], berkebutuhan khusus [special needs] and difabel [shortened from differently abled]. The labels such as kelainan [abnormality], tunarunggu [deaf], tunawicara [mute], tunanetra [blind], for example, are obviously ableist. These labels when spoken and used discursively carry negative connotation and maintain the current dominant beliefs that the abled body is the desired one, thus is considered to be much more superior compared to the disabled body.

Even though the above terminologies are still in use in Indonesian's lexicon and daily discourse, disability-rights activists and advocates in Indonesia have urged the government for less-suppressing labels for people with disabilities. The government, driven by the ratification of the Convention of the right of Persons with Disability, changed and thus encouraged the use of 'penyandang disabilitas' [a holder of a disability] and 'anak berkebutuhan khusus' [children with special needs]. The first regulation is stated in the regulation of the minister of Women Empowerment and Child Protection number 10/2011 on children with special needs handling. The second is regulated in law number 19 year 2011. Although, these new terms are the strategy that the government of Indonesia implemented in order to soften the stigma for the previous labels, there are still, however, hints of ableism. The term 'penyandang disabilitas' is actually a euphemism for the previous term 'penyandang cacat' [a holder of a defect]. Such euphemism reflects Indonesian culture which tends to "soften the value of something considered rude and impolite" (Suharto, Kuipers, & Dorsett, 2016).

The difference between the two labels lies in the word 'disabilitas' [disability] and the word 'cacat' [defect]. While the word 'cacat' refers to a condition which is usually physical or something that can be seen, the word 'disabilitas' (a loanword from English) refers to the effect of the conditions. More specifically, both words carry the same implied meaning, that those with disabilities, in Indonesian context, are not like the rest of 'Us.' In other words, they are 'Others'. The same thing applies for the other label 'anak berkebutuhan khusus' [children with special needs] which was introduced in the early 2011. The words 'with special needs' is also a euphemism for penyandang disabilitas, even though these two are used interchangeably. Although using more 'positive' words, the three terms, in practice, are still discursively othering people with disabilities. The terms semantically point out the difference between the able-bodied and the non-abled-bodied. This way of discursively 'differentiating' or 'othering' as has previously argued, is therefore a form of oppression and in its core maintaining the current supremacy of able-bodied group.


Given the fact that language use in media discourse may function to shape social reality to a wider society, this study aims to examine the way people with disabilities and/or disability issues are represented in the mass media to gain more understanding of how disability is constructed linguistically in The Jakarta Post. To this end, this study will employ a critical discourse analysis approach. This approach is chosen as it investigates discursive situations in which "dominance and equality are to the fore" (Chouliaraki, 2008, p. 220). In particular, this study will utilize a media text analysis method. This method considers the language used in the media. It considers choice of words or diction, phrase and clause constructions as "subtle indicators of the powers of the medium to mediate the word [of people with disabilities] to the [wider social world]" (Chouliaraki, 2008, p. 220). Hence, social, cultural and political actions or events represented and narrated in the existing mass media text are not seen as ideologically neutral.


Data collection

The data are newspaper articles on disability and people with disabilities published in one major Indonesian newspaper, The Jakarta Post. As the language use in the newspapers is English, its target readers are mostly middle to high class, well-educated Indonesians who can speak English, business people and foreigners. In 2006, The Jakarta Post received recognition as one of the newspapers that best followed the ethics and standards of journalism. The newspaper articles are from 2013 to April 2014. This time period is chosen, as this was the time when the study was conducted.

Research questions

This study aims to answer the following research question: How are people with disabilities represented in the media discourse?

To examine how people with disabilities are represented in the media discourse, I used the following analytical categories:

  • Classification: including names and labels given to people with disabilities (Huckin, 2005 cited in Flowerdew, 2008) such as people with disabilities, disabled people, the blind, people with visual impairments, and so forth.
  • Lexical analysis: adjectives, verbs, and noun/noun phrases used to describe and discuss disability issues and people with disabilities. Some of these lexicons are weak, unfortunate, poor and so forth.
  • Role allocation (Leeuwen, 2008) given to people with disabilities in a clause/sentence construction: the roles, in this context, are the semantic roles given to a noun-phrase [e.g., people with disabilities]. These semantic roles signify the relationship between the noun phrases in a sentence. For example: "the lady with a wheelchair was helped by her friends." In this construction, the lady with a wheelchair is the "patient" [the one undergoes the action] while her friends is the 'agent' [the doer of the action].

Findings and Discussion

Referring and naming

The articles in The Jakarta Post refer to people with disabilities with terms such as "the disabled", "the handicapped", or "disabled people" and "wheel-chaired passenger". The most frequent used referrals are "the disabled" and "disabled people". To be more specific, many referrals which used the past participle "disabled" as an adjective, modifying the head phrase "people" such as in the label "disabled people"; or a referral such "the disabled" which nominalizes the past participle "disabled" and turns it into the head of the noun phrase. This occurred 76 times in 10 articles and of the 10 articles, eight articles' headlines were found to use such referrals too.

The referral "people with disabilities" occurred 46 times in the articles. Children and students were more frequently referred to with such referrals such as in Arini and her husband sent their son to Pantara Elementary School, a school for children with learning disabilities and The education system has yet to fulfill the rights of students with disabilities. Another label, 'difable' [a shortened version from 'differently abled', a relatively new label proposed by disability activists in Jogjakarta], is used only once such as in He said that he started the business with a fellow difable with Rp 20 million (US$1,807) as capital.

The referrals "a person with a disability" or "people with disabilities" are used interchangeably with "the disabled" or "disabled people". This raises a question on the terms being used throughout the articles. Does this usage reflect authors' attitudes toward the issue, hence to people with disabilities or is it just a matter of expedience, as the word "disabled" is simpler and thus more practical than "people with disabilities" or "individual with visual impairment"? This paper will hopefully answer such question.

Indonesia adopted the word "disabled" or "disability" into the Indonesian lexicon and it has become "disabilitas". It is a noun having the same semantic denotation as the English word—lacking adequate power or strength to physically, socially and culturally function. The labels "disabled people" and "people with disabilities" are translated into Indonesian as "Penyandang disabilitas" [a holder of a disability or disabled person]. The referral's central focus on one's disability, be it putting it as an adjective such as in "disabled people" or as a noun phrase after the word 'people' as in "people with disabilities," connote negative stigma such as "weak, passive, unintelligent, worthless, problematic, [thus] when the word is spoken and attached to one person, even if partially, subconscious feeling is evoked" (Galvin, 2003, p. 158). Consequently, when given to a group of people, such labels function to unconsciously stigmatize the person in way that they are not 'expected to be [strong], intelligent, or attractive' (Coleman, 1997, p. 221). Hence, the way a person is discursively situated oppresses the person being labelled.

Not only is such labelling a form of oppression, but it is also a form of identity invasion. Identity invasion happens "through the practices of labelling and hegemonic language usage detrimental to [the] images [of people being labelled]" (Peters, 1999, p. 103). In the context of people with disabilities, such labelling may have social, cultural and political effects. To illustrate, the label "disabled person" shifts the focus on the effect of impairments to a person thus limiting the identity of a person being labelled as 'disabled', neglecting the fact that each person has their own unique ability and strength. This labelling is enacted and re-enacted through daily discourses which can be passed down from generation to generation and make the division between abled-body and disabled-body appear natural.

To make things words, the labels "the disabled" and "the handicapped" have been used as the plural nouns indicating people with disabilities (as in the disabled demand equal rights and Fighting for Indonesia's disabled), unlike the label of "disabled person," shifting the entire focus on the disability through the removal of personhood. This kind of removal of personhood is regarded by Corker (1999) as dehumanizing. The construction of people's identity through the absence of personhood and the act of putting the emphasis on the disability perpetuates cultural oppression and marginalization and thus maintains discrimination. Such referrals indicate that people with disabilities are an undifferentiated group who are largely defined by their disabilities, leading to the subtle framing of people with disabilities as unimportant. This ableist practice, as argued by Galvin (2003), maintains the binary of "abled" and "disabled" or "normal" and "abnormal." In this binary, the "abled" constitutes the highest standard of qualified human beings and the "disabled" as less qualified.

Even though the language being analyzed is English, such dichotomy through the use and distribution of hegemonic language is also apparent in Indonesian society. In fact, such labels have been colloquially used within and among the abled-bodied groups to joke around and to refer to a member of the group who display traits considered socially and culturally undesirable. For example, in Indonesia the labels Autis [Autistic] and Gila/Gangguan Jiwa [mental/developmentally retarded] have been broadly used as a joke or in Indonesian humor. For example, in a group meeting when one member of the group is playing with her his/her phone and is interacting minimally with other members, she/he will be called or nicknamed 'Autis' (Autistic). The way people use such labels as a joke in a daily usage embodies ableist values. In other words, such practice upholds able-bodied supremacy through humor and the fact that it is being used in daily humor discourse indicates that such supremacy has been rooted in the Indonesian society and been considered a neutral and natural phenomenon.

Although there has not been any published research yet regarding the effect of this label when used colloquially, some newspaper articles (Liputan6, 2015; Rengganis, 2015), petitions (Mumu, 2015), and blogs (Hardiyanti, 2015; Nabilah, 2011) have urged people to stop using such labels as a joke in Indonesian daily spoken and written discourse. The activists urged people to see people with disabilities as human beings who are capable of navigating their own lives with their own unique ways.

Some activists in Indonesia consider terminologies such as those above as "offensive and stigmatizing as they equate human beings with objects terminologies" (Suharto, Kuipers, & Dorsett, 2016, p. 699). This objection has led disability activists in Jogjakarta in search of new inclusive terms for people with disability. These advocates opt and urge Indonesians to use a more inclusive term, 'difabel'. The word 'difabel' is a shortened form of the words "differently abled' or 'different ability'. This term was pioneered by Mansour Fakih (Suharto, Kuipers, & Dorsett, 2016), who mobilized a community of people with disability to create a non-oppressive term to counter the current disability-oppressive term, hence making it the first grassroot-led term. This term, drawn from the social model of disability, situates disability within the social and cultural context. Within this framework, disability is not seen as a natural consequence of a flawed body or mental state of someone but as a consequence of society's failure in creating social and cultural environment that is friendly to people with disability.

The use of a newly introduced term difabel has only been enforced regionally such as in Sleman with its Sleman District Regulation number 11/2002 on the provisions of Facilities on Public Buildings and Environments for Diffabled People, in Surakarta with its Surakarta City Regulation Number 2/2008 about Equality of people with Diffabilities, and in Klaten with its Klaten District Regulation Number 2/2011 on Equality, Independence, and Welfare of People with Diffabilities (Suharto, Kuipers, & Dorsett, 2016). In analyzed articles, however, this term was only used once.

The prevalent use of ableist terminologies and the almost-absent use of the newly introduced term difabel indicates that the medical model and charity model of disability are nevertheless deeply rooted in Indonesian society. Under these two frameworks, people with disabilities are seen as broken members of society due to their biomedical conditions and thus dependent on the support from the able-bodied group. Despite the fact that the grassroot-led term difabel has been in use in three provinces since 2011, the Indonesian government has not yet regulated the use of difabel throughout the country.

This further maintains the current hegemony in two ways. First, the voices of people with disabilities are, unfortunately, not heard. This is quite evident as such elite-terms have been changed from time to time. [For example, from the term 'cacat' (defects) in 1947 to 'orang dalam keadaan kekurangan jasmani atau rohani' (People who lack physical and spiritual fitness) in 1954, 'orang yang terganggu atau kehilangan kemampuan untuk mempertahankan hidupnya' (people who are disturbed or who lost their ability to function) in 1974, to 'tuna' (a loss) in 1974, to 'penderita cacat' (a sufferer of a defect) in 1980, to 'penyandang kelainan' (a holder of abnormality) in 1991, to 'kelainan fisik, emosional, mental, intellektual, atau sosial' (physical, emotional, mental, intellectual or social abnormalities) in 2003, 'berkebutuhan khusus' (special needs) in 2011, and 'penyandang disabilitas' (a holder of a disability).] These changes were elite-led not grassroot-led. Second, the lack of national enforcement of such grassroot-led term therefore maintains the current hegemony of the able-bodied group, in which the able-bodied would decide upon what is best for the non-able-bodied group.

Role allocation: patient/beneficiary-agent relationship

This paper uses the framework of linguistics analysis as its point of departure. In linguistics, a sentence normally has semantic roles. Semantic roles are different from grammatical roles. Unlike semantic roles which refer to the actual or real role that a participant plays in some situations displayed through linguistic apparatuses, the grammatical roles refer to the functional roles a participant has in relation to the constituents [a syntactic unit] in a sentence. Constituents in a sentence are given semantic roles such as agent, patient, beneficiary, theme, goal and so forth. Agent refers to the partaker in a sentence initiating the action. The patient, on the other hand, is the participant who undertakes the effect of some action usually carried out by the agent. Beneficiary is the entity for whose benefit the action was performed.

Throughout the articles, people with disabilities are mostly given roles as 'patients' and 'beneficiaries' and almost none as 'agents'. Thus, semantically people with disabilities undergo the effect of and gain benefit from some action or carried out by the agent, in this case largely by the able-bodied group. This enhances socio-cultural inferences towards people with disabilities as weak, powerless, broken and needing fixing or helping, as Schirmer, Weidenstedt, and Reich (2012) argue. This premise is evident through the topics and content of the articles which largely discuss about the assistance and support given to and the number of humanitarian-organizations who function as agents [such as Indonesian Disabled Women's Association (HWDI), Mandiri Craft, The Japanese Red Cross, Malaysian Red Cross, Yayasan Penyandang Cacat Mandiri, a foundation for independent handicapped people, a Malaysian NGO, Opportunities for Vulnerable Children (OVC) of Helen Keller International Indonesia, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), International Labor Organization (ILO), Yayasan Kampung Halaman (YKH)].

These institutions, carrying the semantic role of 'agents', provide interventions such as improving accessibility to education, public facilities to people with disabilities and empowering them to be financially independent. People with disabilities, on the other hand, carry the semantic role as 'patients' whose lives are changed and impacted through actions initiated by these institutions, and as 'beneficiaries' who receive medical, social and cultural intervention from these humanitarian organizations' programs. The patient/beneficiary-agent relationship indicates the state of 'powerless', 'vulnerability', 'dependency' of people with disabilities and thus, as argued by Bandura (2001), naturalizes the control that the agents put over people with disabilities or disability issues.

The sentence structure, adjectives and verbs used throughout the articles correspondingly indicate the patient/beneficiaries-agent relations in the disability discourse, discursively portraying patients/beneficiaries as powerless, vulnerable and dependent. The following extracts may illustrate this relation.

  1. Helping the disabled find empowerment has been a long-time commitment of the founder and leader of Mandiri Craft, Tarjono Slamet, whose employees are all handicapped.
  2. We want disabled people to be regarded the same as other residents. We urge councilors to facilitate this (the Jakarta post, April 01 2013, Rizal Harahap).
  3. My dream is to make a disabled person into a boss [who runs a business] every year," said the father of three.
  4. Here they [people with disabilities] are empowered and become independent," said the single man from Pekalongan, Central Java.
  5. "ILO believes that the participatory video will increase awareness on disability in which people, particularly decision makers, will put it as a priority," Miyamoto said on Tuesday.
  6. The three were representing Indonesia in a campaign effort to raise awareness among disabled people regarding disaster risk reduction.
  7. The network aims is to secure the active participation and meaningful contribution of disabled persons in disaster risk reduction policy and practice post-2015.

Clauses such as Helping the disabled find empowerment and We want disabled people to be regarded the same as other residents put the disabled and disabled people right after the verbs. In the first clause, helping the disabled, the disabled is placed right after the gerund 'helping' and thus an object for that non-finite clause construction. The word helping, according to Oxford dictionary, is to 'make it easier or possible for someone to do something by offering them one's services or resources'. The word 'help' also denotes the receiver of the 'help' as weak, dependent and incapable of finding empowerment. As this is an active construction, this syntactic construction suggests that the disabled undergoes that action performed by a more powerful participant or agent [the understood agent in that construction is Mandiri Craft, a humanitarian organization]. In other words, the disabled is given the semantic/thematic role as 'patient' and the non-able bodied group, the Mandiri Craft, as 'agent'.

The same thing applies in other clauses such as We want disabled people to be regarded the same as other residents and my dream is to make a disabled person into a boss. In these two constructions, the noun phrases 'disabled people' and 'a disabled person' are affected by the verbs 'want' and 'make', thus giving the 'disabled people' the thematic roles as 'patients' for the two verbs which are initiated by the noun phrases 'we' for the first construction and 'I' [understood subject] for the second clause construction.

This agent-patient relationship is also evident in the clause construction, Here they [people with disabilities] are empowered and become independent.' said the single man from Pekalongan Central Java. Unlike the previous three examples in which the clauses are in active syntactic construction, this is in passive construction. In this construction, they [people with disabilities] is syntactically positioned before the verb are empowered, thus, although being positioned before the verb, this construction is passive. This passive construction still allocates the 'people with disabilities' as the patient who, as this construction suggests, does not perform the action verb 'empower' but are affected by the action verb 'empower' done by another party; in this case a humanitarian organization working to help people with disabilities. This agent-patient relation subtly indicates that people with disabilities are a group of people that need intervention from other parties, in this case the parties are mainly from the non-disabled group.

This patient/beneficiaries-agent relationship is also evident in the use of nouns throughout the articles. To be specific, the nouns associated with disabilities are of two categories: problems and solutions. Problem-related noun phrases found throughout the articles include problems towards accessibility, unfilled rights, discrimination and stigma towards people with disabilities, lack of awareness and protection towards people with disabilities, barriers, charity objection, difficulty, vulnerability, risk, limitations, bullying, and weakness. Solution-related noun phrases are such as solutions through empowerment, participation of and contribution of the non-abled group, perseverance of the able-bodied group and entrepreneurship, establishment of special and inclusive schools, and raising awareness through campaigns. These noun-phrases associated with problems are largely ascribed to people with disabilities while those associated with solutions are to institutions or humanitarian organizations which are largely from the non-able-bodied group. This distribution enhances the patient/beneficiaries-agent relationship.

Linguistic arrangements that present people with disabilities as being controlled and acted on by the agents reflect power relations. They indicate that agents have power to decide over the patients. Schirmer, Weidenstedt and Reich (2012) associate agential abilities in the context of patient-agent relations as the primary reference of respectful and disrespectful behaviours. The fact that the agents in those articles disregard the agential ability (the ability to achieve goals independently) of people with disabilities is an act of disrespect (Michailakis & Reich, 2009). Disrespect can also be seen through the existing scepticism towards the agential abilities of and the lack of involvement of people with disabilities.

This existing scepticism influences Indonesian education system, law and policies related to the welfare of people with disabilities and many others. For example, the school system built for children with disabilities has been largely segregated, underdeveloped (Sunardi, 2010) and is limited in terms of future opportunities for employment for its students. For example, Indonesia up to the present day still segregates special schools based on the types of disabilities such as Sekolah Luar Biasa A [Special school for students with visual impairment], Sekolah Luar Biasa [Special school for students with hearing impairments], Sekolah Luar Biasa C [Special school for students with intellectual disabilities], Sekolah Luar Biasa D [Special school for students with mobility impairments], Sekolah Luar Biasa ABCB (special school for the four types of disabilities mentioned above] and Loka Bina Karya [Vocational Training for students with disabilities]. In these schools, students are generally equipped with necessary skills that are needed for people with disabilities to exercise for their independent livings (Irwanto, Kasim, Fransiska', Lusli, & Siradj, 2010).

The skills offered in those special institutions, however, are limited and thus provide limited future employment for students. Take one example: students with visual and hearing impairments are taught skills to be a masseur/masseuse across the provinces in Indonesia. Some examples are in Banjarmasin (Ashabirin, 2012), in Bogor (Fero, 2012), in Semarang (Pramudita, 2018) and in many other regions across Indonesia. After the students graduate, they will, if they want to, work for institutions providing massage services managed by people with disabilities but initiated by the Ministry of Social Works for the benefits of people with disabilities. This is contemporarily considered to be and remain to be a realistic way to promote and support social integration of people with disabilities. Although this arrangement is noble, at least in the Indonesian culture which upholds the collectivist culture, it invades the agential abilities of people with disabilities by confining their lives into very limited selections of skills and future possible employment.

Such arrangement may also indicate that the identity and characteristics of people with disabilities are "the product of relations of power exercised over bodies, multiplicities, movement, desires, and forces" (Foucault, 1980 p. 32 cited in Galvin, 2003). In other words, the agential ability of people with disabilities in discourses, be in the conversational, commercial and official discourses, is socially, culturally and structurally constructed and thus imposed through power relations which largely position those in power to decide what is best for people with disabilities. It is true as selections of skills and possible future employment for people with particular impairments are solely decided and set by the government.

This 'ability-and-possible-future-employment confinement' speaks volumes about two significant issues. First, it reveals that, in principles, the medical and charity model of disability are still in use by Indonesian decision makers as they develop and run programs for the welfare of people with disabilities. Second, the subtle oppression of people with disability that is enacted and re-enacted through their being separated from the community to access education and employment is, unfortunately, still in practice. The practice of this 'othering' maintains the existing hegemony of abled and non-abled groups.


This study has revealed that people with disabilities, in an Indonesian mass media discourse, are discursively constructed with thematic roles of a 'patient' and 'beneficiary' via syntactic construction and the extensive use of ableist terminologies. Contemporary Indonesian media mass discourse maintains the medical and charity models of disability. This medical model of disability views disability as merely an inevitable effect of impairment implicating that the impairment should be fixed in order for people with disability be able to fit in a society. The charity model of disability on the other hand views people with disability as members of the groups who need protections and caring, thus interventions that are considered to be the best for people with disabilities are done and this includes establishment of segregated schools and vocational training institutions. These views have created a binary between the 'abled' group and 'disabled' group in which the 'abled' group is considered to be more superior and thus can control the 'disabled' group. This binary is evident in a case in Indonesia where people with disability are put in exile particularly those with mental disorders (BBC Indonesia, 2016). These people with mental disorders are put in exile by putting them into one house away from the society with their hands or feet tied up or chained. What is done to this group of people has, as this phenomenon indicates, been considered as a common sense 'intervention'. In other words, if the impairment cannot be fixed, then this group of people may not be able to fit in the society.

Viewing impairment as the sole disabling factor, however, is flawed. It fails to see that the society takes part in disabling people with impairment as the society seems to care about what cannot be fixed rather than what each person with impairment needs. In other words, impairment, under this view, does not disable people, the society does. A person with visual impairment, for example, can access education given that the society accepts different alternatives to perceiving and accessing information. In other words, people with visual impairments can study in a regular school given that the society accepts and provides necessary devices needed to access learnings such screen readers, books in braille, and etc. Another example, a person with Dyslexia should also not fall under the category of 'disabled' group if the society accepts a different alternative to written communication. It is the society that should be changed in order for people with impairment to fit and live in a society and impairment should thus be seen as alternatives and/or diversity rather than abnormality. This alternative and/or diversity should be embraced and celebrated by the society.


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