There’s an important part of diversity discussions in newsrooms and classrooms that needs to be addressed: disability. People with disabilities make up an estimated 20% of the population in the United States, and one in five families includes a member with a disability. Despite these statistics, in comparison to other minority groups, people with disabilities are overlooked in news coverage and classroom discussions about diversity in journalism.
This semester, I introduced the topic of disability into my diversity lesson plan in a broadcast journalism course. My goal was to expand students’ understanding of diversity. I hope, as they enter the real world, they apply what they’ve learned. I also recently conducted a workshop at Your News Now (Syracuse) on this topic (See presentation below).
My workshop and lesson plan focus on why it’s important to include disability in diversity discussions, the proper terminology related to disability, the framing of disability stories, and how journalists can include disability in news coverage.
- Terminology: Use person-first language (notice I’ve been using the phrase “people with disabilities”). You should avoid terms that fail to emphasize people with disabilities as “people first.” The basic idea is to name the person first and the condition second in order to emphasize “they are people first.” I’ve worked for a disability organization the past three years. People with disabilities face unique challenges, just like anyone else. However, disability doesn’t necessarily define who they are. Disability isn’t something they “suffer from.” That’s another phrase to avoid. Also, when describing an individual, don’t reference his or her disability unless it’s clearly pertinent to the story.
- Story Frames: Disability is a way of being, not something a person “has.” Journalists should avoid story frames or angles that center on pity, charity, weakness, suffering, and deficiency, among others.
- News Coverage: There are many ways news organizations can integrate the topic of disability into news coverage.
*Focus on the issues impacting people with disabilities, especially unemployment and health care.
*Plan stories around important dates in the disability rights movement , such as the Americans with Disabilities Act anniversary (July 26)
*Include people with disabilities as sources in non-disability related stories.
*Launch a recurring segment/feature about disability. Karen Meyer’s Disability Issues segment on Chicago’s ABC-TV affiliate is a wonderful example.
- National Center on Disability and Journalism
- Society of Professional Journalists Diversity Toolbox: Covering Disability Issues
- If you’re looking for classroom exercises or lesson plans, email me.