Disability Coverage in the Media

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Vilissa Thompson

News coverage concerning how disabled people will be impacted by the American Health Care Act (AHCA) and proposed budget cuts to safety net programs has been the topic of discussion for the past few weeks. A recent article on the Washington Post created a stir in the community about who is deemed appropriate to receive disability benefits. There has been a number of reactions and counterpieces to this particular article, but how the media reports on disability is one that must be discussed openly.

In a recent #CripTheVote Twitter chat, the topic of holding the media accountable for its coverage of disability was reiterated by several participants, including myself. The media has an ethical obligation to report on disability and the community’s experiences in a manner that is just and accurate. For example, with the lack of understanding surrounding disability programs and the qualification process, it is incredibly irresponsibility to publish reports or stories that play into unrealistic viewpoints. These viewpoints have the power to influence public opinion in supporting or rejecting these literally life-saving policies. Misconceptions regarding how these programs work, who receives them, and the importance they are to the survival of beneficiaries can impact the level of political backing these policies receive.

It is crucial for the media to do a self-evaluation regarding its reporting on disability. With the current political climate, misgivings on disability issues can have a domino effect in how our very livelihoods are perceived and protected. Ceasing to rely on disability stereotypes and inspiration porn in headlines is one way media outlets can begin the reconstruction process of the image of disability it portrays. “Feel good” stories may yield high pageviews on websites, but they add no significant value in addressing the issues that matter to us, such as education, employment, healthcare, etc. The media should lend itself to leading better, more effective awareness and proaction of the disparities we face in our communities; this is an underutilized method that has to be strengthened.

One critical means that also goes underutilized by the media are disabled writers, journalists, reporters, essayists, and editors. If the media is to lead by example as to how disability policies and lives are examined, it must include disabled people do ensure that this occurs. There is a multitude of disabled talent available to cover every niche there is; the failure of such talent not being sought after by the industry can be easily corrected. Hiring disabled staff will ameliorate the issues I outlined, as well as create career opportunities for aspiring and seasoned individuals in the field. This is a prime case of how “nothing about us without us” connects with the media. When we are giving the chance to write and edit our stories, they will be done in a light that is fitting to who we are.

Reporting on disability can no longer be done haphazardly. The media must be held to a higher esteem by not only us, but the collective society. If the media fails one group, it fails all of us, whether we are directly or indirectly affected. It is with hope that the current atmosphere allows for more appropriate media coverage on disability to transpire, and for more diverse disabled perspectives to be read, heard, and learned.