Research: Stereotyping and Stigmatising Disability, A Content Analysis of Canadian Print News Media About Fetal Alcohol Spectrum


  • John AsplerNeuroethics Research Unit, Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal
  • Natalie ZizzoBiomedical Ethics Unit, Experimental Medicine, McGill University Nina Di Pietro, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Department of Psychology, Douglas College
  • Nina Di PietroFaculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Department of Psychology, Douglas College
  • Eric RacineDepartment of Medicine and Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Université de Montréal and Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Experimental Medicine, McGill University


People with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), a complex and controversial neurodevelopmental disability caused by alcohol exposure in the womb, report experiences of stigma in different parts of their lives. The media, sometimes central to how a public understands and constructs marginalized identities, have a notable history of poorly representing people with disabilities like FASD (including in Canada), which could increase their stigmatisation.

Additionally, given its cause, women who drink while pregnant can also face stigmatisation – with some public discourses evoking narratives that promote blame and shame.

To gain insight into the kinds of information presented to Canadians about FASD, alcohol, and pregnancy, we conducted a media content analysis of 286 articles retrieved from ten of the top Canadian newspapers (2002-2015). In this article, we report key themes we identified, most common being ‘crime associated with FASD’. We explore connections between this coverage, common disability stereotypes (i.e., criminal behaviour and ‘the villain’), FASD stigma, and expectations of motherhood.

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