A panel explored ways that journalists and members of the media can improve their coverage to make it more accessible to those with disabilities.
More than 1 billion people around the world live with a physical, visual or intellectual disability, according to Margarita Birnbaum, an independent journalist who moderated the moderator of the panel. Nearly a quarter of Americans report having some form of a disability, making them the largest minority group in the United States.
People with disabilities often don’t see representation of themselves as either someone who is described as a hero who is overcoming their disability in some way or as the victim who is the object of pity, according to Carolyn Griffiths, Ph.D., a disability researcher at Arizona State University. Media portrayal can also lead people to deny their disability, Griffiths said.
“We see this most often because they don't want to deal with the negative perceptions that others may have,” she said.
When covering certain topics, journalists should ensure they speak at length with members of the community they are writing about, Amanda Morris, a disability reporter at The Washington Post, said. They should also take care to ensure that they are representative of the population and have a strong understanding of the factors that intersect with disability like race or income status.
"Disabled people live in poverty at twice the rate of non-disabled people,” Morris said. “Now you mix that with race. We know that Black Americans, we know that Native Americans, live in higher rates of poverty. Because poverty creates disability, it also exacerbates it.”
According to Cara Reedy, a journalist and founder of The Disabled Journalists Association, members of the media and reporters should consider those with disabilities as the experts due to their lived experience and be skeptical toward medical professionals framing a disability as something to “fix.”
“I don't think there's always something wrong,” Reedy, a member of the dwarf community, said. “I think the framing is such a big deal.”
Journalists must provide positive and honest coverage of members of the disabled community, Griffiths said, and look for ways to use different story formats so coverage is accessible to everyone. That could include audio stories, using e-text technology, or just making sure that font size and color are easy to read.
Meg Cunningham is a state government reporter for The Kansas City Beacon. She was a 2023 AHCJ Missouri fellow.