Using Disability for Propaganda Purposes
October 10th, 2012 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

Source: Facebook

I happened across this graphic on the Facebook page of an anti-vaccination group called the Vaccine Information Network (VINE). The page propagates the twin falsehoods that a) vaccines don’t work and b) vaccines are linked to rising autism diagnosis rates and a purported epidemic of other conditions.

Now, no one has ever denied that severe vaccine reactions occur, but these are rare. And I certainly support the idea of acknowledging those who have been harmed by these reactions. But I do not support propaganda that vastly overstates the number of these injuries as part of a campaign to lower vaccination rates, and I most certainly don’t support propaganda that uses images of disabled people to do it.

Of course, the graphic on the VINE page does not only use images of disabled people for a cause that isn’t ours. No. It does much more. It uses images of disabled people to engender fear. It uses these images to portray disabled people as pitiful, frightening, dangerous, worthless, and without agency. It represents disabled people as diseased and broken. It uses the worst stereotypes of disability as tragedy and social burden and passive victimization. And it does this for the sake of its own agenda, without any consciousness at all of the potential for harm of such stigmatizing images.

Shame on you, VINE. Your ideas about vaccination potentially endanger the public health, and you dehumanize and demean disabled people in the process of propagating those ideas. Time to find yourself a new moral compass. The one you’re using just isn’t working.

© 2012 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg


3 Responses  
  • Penny writes:
    October 10th, 20127:03 pmat

    I wonder if the children whose images were altered and collaged into that graphic khew they would be portrayed that way? Did their parents say “Sure, cut up the photo so it looks like she’s crosseyed and drooling, good idea”? I doubt it.

    I wonder if VINE feels any concern for the real-life kids who will be mocked and jeered and excluded by the same folks who share this graphic? I doubt it.

    The existence of this graphic says, loud and clear, these people don’t care about kids–any kids.

  • KathyH writes:
    October 10th, 201210:22 pmat

    Thank you for posting about this. I shared it earlier today on informed parents of vaccinated children, on Facebook, and it has gotten a lot of attention. I hope that all this attention, from many sources, makes the point to people not to devalue others in such a manner.

  • Grant writes:
    October 12th, 20127:36 pmat

    I’ve seen Erwin Alber use this image before along with other ridiculous images. VINE is one of the more “odd” anti-vaccine Facebook sites, with everything from conspiracy theories to Alber’s belief that vaccines contain mind-control devices. (I’m being serious – we asked him if he could confirm this on sciblogs and he did.)

    A wider pity is that a number of so-called “vaccine caused” cases are proving to be driven by genetic causes (many have their origin in de novo mutations, so their genetic nature isn’t as obvious as the more classical inherited genetics). Children with Dravet’s Syndrome, for example, apparently often go on to show autism-like traits.

    While I’m writing here – I was “supposed” to be co-ordinating a blog carnival (see my website like, it might be linked on my name or avatar) on disability in the sciences but haven’t got enough entries to make a real go of it – disappointing. It might just still happen.

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