MEME - Me and the Media: Fostering Social Media Literacy competences through interactive learning sets for adults with disabilities










Unibo structure involved: Department of Philosophy and Communication Studies - FILCOM
Scientific coordinator: Claudio Paolucci
Unibo Team: Paolo Martinelli; Gabriele Giampieri; Sara Colombo
Project Web page:
Erasmus+ Action type: KA2 Strategic Partnerships for adult education
Project reference: 2019-1-LT01-KA204-060697
Start Date: 1 October 2019
End Date: 30 September 2021
Budget: Total: € 204,610 UNIBO: € 26,570




Compared to only a decade ago, the way in which people access, absorb and elaborate information has drastically changed. With new forms of media emerging on the scene, such as online journals, websites and social media, the use of online media has grown rapidly and new services and communication tools, such as blogs, video stream and social media have become increasingly prominent. Young people, including young adults with disabilities, are more affected: in Europe 97% of young people (including young adults between 18 and 30) use the internet at least once a week [Eurostat, 2017]. Young adults generally possess a wider range of ICT skills, but less is known about the way these new media represent diversity, in particular disability and disabled adult people, on the effect this representation (often stigmatisation) has on people with and without disabilities and on the way young people with disabilities participate in social media and the barriers they encounter (Ref. UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities).

The studies at national level in LT, IT, PT and AT provides quite common situation overview in all partner countries - the main image of the disabled people is formed by the professional journalists and media, while the potential of disabled people to represent themselves in media is not revealed. Improving Digital media skills is of direct importance to young adults with disabilities, to facilitate better social inclusion and the capacity to tackle discrimination, segregation and cyberbullying while, at the same time, being able to better represent themselves on media.


To enhance the digital media skills of adults with disabilities by using interactive learning settings to actively and constructively contribute towards a fairer and more pluralistic representation of disability in social media.

To fill the gaps in the professional adult educator’s knowledge to help them better support young adults with disabilities in their engagement with digital (social) media.

Led by the University of Bologna, the consortium will carry out a study that will focuses deeply on stereotypes, investigating how they are created as well as how they continue to evolving due to the democratisation of digital media. This study will deal both with language and visual components of texts and messages. We will adopt an innovative methodology combining qualitative and quantitative analysis.

Armed with that knowledge, the consortium will include young adults with disabilities in the co-design and implementation of Social Media Training Labs in LT, IT, PT and AT. These will be physical places where peers with disabilities can meet and discuss their social media consumption and participation. Through the deconstruction of stereotypes found in the media and the construction of alternative, more authentic representations, the groups will actively engage with social media and, more specifically, with shared social channels. The expectation is that this will contribute to a more complex and pluralistic representation of disability in digital media. In the Training labs the participants will develop their digital skills (Ref. Digital Agenda for Europe). The participants will also be involved in the creation of the MeMe Guidelines and of a Toolbox with apps, assistive software and other solutions to facilitate the access and presence of people with disabilities in social media. The project will also produce a Learning programme for adult educators, PwD workers and assistants starting from gaps in standards for the initial education of these professionals in the participating countries and other available professional standards (e.g. ethical standards for journalists). Finally, a Serious Mobile game specifically tailored to engage targeted adults in interactive learning will be developed.

The methodology that the consortium will apply will be based on co-creation of the educational setting and collaborative and individual work in Training Labs based on media analysis and media production, with digital skills acquisition during the “learning by doing” process. To ensure the correspondence with the target group’s needs, the project will follow participatory design principles, where the target group will be involved in the process from the very beginning and will participate in all project activities.

Expected results: enhanced digital media skills of 80 young adults with disabilities, strengthened the capacity of educating over 60 adult educators, introducing over 75 medial professionals and over 80 parents of PwD with recommendations.

Impact: Using a wide range of dissemination tools, among which 5 multiplier events, the results of the project will be shared with stakeholders.

The short term impact of the project will be at the national level for adults with disabilities, adult educators, media professionals and policymakers who will be more aware of the complexity of social media education and the need for appropriate resources to cater for needs.

The long term impact relates more to PwD using social media for entertainment, socializing with their peers, advocacy and for a fairer representation of diversity in society.

Unibo’s Output

Are We Heroes? A Semiotic Take on Stereotypes about Disability in the Media

The Open Education Resource “Are we heroes?” is a study on how disability (in general) and disabled young people (in particular) are represented in social media. It has been carried on using a semiotic methodology focused on enunciation developed by the scientific coordinator Claudio Paolucci in his book Persona. Subjectivity in Language and Semiotics of Enunciation (published both in Italian by Bompiani and in French by Puliège).

The European research involved a wide collection of narratives and representations spread by digital platforms in four countries: Lithuania, Italy, Portugal and Austria. Analyzing and comparing data, common advertising and communication strategies, our research unveiled a turn of paradigm concerning the representation of disability in Europe. As the inquiry will later demonstrate, what is at work is a dialogue between readers’ expectations - grounded upon past representations of disability - and more recent depiction of persons with disability (PWD), where the lack or the variation of classic features develops and carries on a new kind of argumentation on disability.

Studying the evolution of stereotypes and narratives surrounding disability represents the fundamental core of the study, which has been developed according to the following procedure:

  • In the first part we analyzed how social media and the participatory culture affected the research field of disability studies. Through the participatory turn we witnessed the transition from the use of media in order to enjoy cultural products before the advent of social networks, to the production of popular culture with media as seen in the practices of sharing and reuse subsequent to the emergence of social networks. The most important result of this transition for people with disabilities is the possibility of contributing to the narrative of disability by performing a collective enunciation model. Classic stereotypes regarding disability did not vanish into thin air but they have been adapted to new cultural practices.
  • In the second part, we have reviewed the classic models of disability, used in public, social and political communication as well as in advertising communication from the 70s onwards: i) the social model, ii) the medical model, iii) the charity model, iv) the individual embodied tragedy model. The analysis of the contributions offered us by our partners demonstrated that these classic stereotypes of disability have changed shape through the advent of new cultural practices.
  • The third part has been built upon some new semiotics’ theoretical tools concerning a semiotic theory of enunciation and discourse. These tools have been exploited to describe the spread and the value that PWD’s stereotypes assume in the participatory culture of new media. On the one hand, the advent of social media led to the development of new forms of engagement and activism, while, on the other hand, it has fostered the resurgence of old cultural stereotypes, a further confirmation of the idea that social media cannot be interpreted with a positive/negative approach. Social media simply opens up new possibilities able to re-setting practices and utterances.
  • In the fourth part, the Unibo team investigated the relationship between stereotypes targeting PwDs and photographic images. One of the fundamental characteristics of the statements and cultural products living and circulating in social networks is the fact that they are images for the most part and they play a fundamental role in the processes of signification underpinning the construction of stereotypes. We have proposed a synoptic table of classic models and stereotype images of disability, in order to account for the way in which they have merged, iterated and entered in the participatory culture of social networks and the practices of sharing. Therefore, we have also proposed an unedited classification of these narrations, which emerged through the analysis of numerous cases that the partnership reported over the data collection task. From one perspective, the emphasizing of disability-meaning representations sheds light on disability and emphasises the PWD’s condition, developing narratives where PWD can emerge as heroes, victims, obstacles to social practices (antagonist) or profiteers who want to take advantage of their condition. On the other side, the aim of narcotization is to hide, deny or set the disability on the background, in order to ease the message of communication.

Further combination between these categories can develop in accordance with the texts analysed.

In the end, what we wish to take into account after extensive research, is that completely escaping from stereotypes is impossible and seemingly not within our reach. Our primary goal is not necessarily about escaping representations; rather, it is about shaping new ones that are more acceptable and respectful.