The Supreme Court on Monday issued guidelines for portraying persons with disabilities in visual media, stating that their representation should not marginalise them.

A bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice JB Pardiwala issued the guidelines on a petition highlighting the alleged disparaging remarks against persons with disabilities in the film Aankh Mihcoli.

While refusing to interfere with the certification granted to the film by the Central Board of Film Certification, the Supreme Court said that the language of public discourse “ought to be inclusive rather than alienating”.

The court noted that language that disparages persons with disabilities “marginalises them further and supplements the disabling barriers in their social participation”.

“Such representation is problematic not because it offends subjective feelings but rather, because it impairs the objective societal treatment of the affected groups by society,” said the court.

Laying out the guidelines for portrayal in visual media, the bench said that words like “cripple” and “spastic” are belittling to persons with disabilities and can cultivate institutional discrimination. It said the words must be avoided as they may also perpetuate discriminatory attitudes.

The bench also pointed out that language that overlooks social barriers faced by individuals, such as “afflicted”, “suffering” and “victim”, should also be avoided.

The court said that producers of visual media must check for accurate representation of a medical condition as much as possible.

“The misleading portrayal of what a condition such as night blindness entails may perpetuate misinformation about the condition, and entrench stereotypes about persons with such impairments, aggravating the disability,” said the bench.

It said that visual media must also reflect the lived experiences of persons with disabilities and not be unidimensional with ableist characterisation.

“Visual media should strive to depict the diverse realities of persons with disabilities, showcasing not only their challenges but also their successes, talents, and contributions to society,” said the bench. “This balanced representation can help dispel stereotypes and promote a more inclusive understanding of disability.”

According to the court, visual media can change the narrative from one of limitation to potential and agency by emphasising the roles of persons with disabilities as active community members who contribute meaningfully across various spheres of life.

Chandrachud and Pardiwala also said that the representation of such persons should not perpetuate myths about disabilities.

Such persons “should neither be lampooned based on myths [such as, ‘blind people bump into objects in their path’] nor presented as ‘super cripples’ on the other extreme”, the bench said.

“For instance, the notion that visually impaired persons have enhanced spatial senses may not apply to everyone uniformly,” said the bench. “It also implies that those who do not have such enhanced superpowers to compensate for the visual impairment are somehow less than ideal.”

Regarding decision-making bodies such as the Central Board of Film Certification, the bench said they must bear in mind the values of participation.

“The ‘nothing about us, without us’ principle is based on the promotion of participation of persons with disabilities and equalisation of opportunities,” it said.

The bench said that the principle must be put to practice in constituting statutory committees and inviting expert opinions.

It also said that training and sensitisation programmes, emphasising the portrayals, public perceptions and lived experiences of persons with disabilities, should be involved for those involved in creating visual media content.