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Journalist Cara Reedy, right, conducts an interview in a documentary for The Guardian, "Being a Little Person in America" which explores the experiences of people with dwarfism.
Journalists had a chance to explore stroke recovery with John Fetterman - most blew it

With Democrat John Fetterman headed to the U.S. Senate to represent Pennsylvania, newsrooms should pause and consider how coverage represents people with disabilities.

Coverage of Fetterman’s recovery from a stroke in May played into the standard political theater that shapes how we evaluate candidates.

Many outlets focused on Fetterman’s use of a closed captioning system during interviews and debates, without explaining that it is a commonly-used accommodation for people who experience auditory processing disorders after a stroke. 

Others reported on harmful and ableist comments by Fetterman’s Republican opponent, Mehmet Oz, and other political figures without providing context for Fetterman’s health condition.

“There’s just a casual laziness [about disability] in newsrooms – a belief that it’s not that important and you don’t have to work that hard for it,” says Cara Reedy, a journalist who is working to change the way disability is portrayed in the media. She recently founded the Disabled Journalists Association to advocate for journalists with disabilities.

As a Black woman with achondroplastic dwarfism, Reedy says she’s encountered ignorance and prejudice in newsrooms, from co-workers who were surprised that she attended college to reporters using a derogatory word for dwarfs in her presence. And while she's glad that many newsrooms have sought her help in updating their style guides, Reedy says reporters and editors also need to discuss the systems that have historically marginalized people with disabilities.

“You’re never going to leave this planet without being disabled at least part of your life…there are very few people who are old who aren’t disabled. It’s a natural state of being,” Reedy says, noting that people with disabilities make up nearly 1 in 4 Americans.

>> Check out this article from the Disability & Philanthropy Forum: “What Funders Need to Know About Disability-Inclusive Grantmaking

Disability impacts all of us. Funders and newsrooms should be looking at themes like poverty, racism, climate change and health care through that lens, she said.

Newsrooms themselves also have a lot of work to do to hire and retain journalists with disabilities.

Ola Ojewumi, a writer and disability rights advocate, said low pay and poor working conditions makes it very difficult for people in media to support themselves and the expenses that come with disability.

“Even when I’ve appeared on television, I’ve had to get out of my wheelchair. Have you ever seen a person with a visible disability hosting a show?” said Ojewumi, who also has a heart condition. “There aren’t enough disabled people in power for this to change.”

The Disabled Journalists Association is brand new. Reedy is preparing an anonymous survey with the goal of learning how many media professionals have a disability and whether they have been able to ask for workplace accommodations required under the 32-year-old Americans with Disabilities Act.

“This is different from the other affinity groups based on race or gender identity. People (with disabilities) are hiding because they have to,” Reedy says.

Reedy suggests journalists and editors learn more about the varied experiences of people with disabilities through activist Alice Wong’s Disability Visibility Project, which shares oral histories, essays and other disability media. She’s also available to provide workshops and training for newsrooms.

We also encourage you to check out:

Tracie Powell
Founder and CEO

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>> What We're Thinking About
  • "Are journalism intermediaries getting too much foundation money?"  Dick Tofel questions whether intermediary organizations are "getting a bit out of scale" at the expense of nonprofit news funding. The article is drawing criticism, including Andrew Ramsammy who said the article "couldn't come at a worse time" for the industry. In a follow-up piece, Tofel says fans of the piece are mostly people of color. Tracie's take? It's a real concern for journalism philanthropy, but not all intermediaries are the same.
  • "Talking Politics on WhatsApp" The Center for Media Engagement surveyed 1,544 adult WhatsApp users and released a report on three sub-groups that use the app frequently, Cuban Americans, Mexican Americans and Indian Americans.
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  • Nov. 15, 6 p.m. EDT - Join The Pivot Fund in discussing "How to Recession-Proof Your News Business." Our guests include The Green Line's Anita Li, QCity Metro Founder Glenn Burkins, and Justin Rushing, Director of Growth and Partnerships at inewsource. Register today! It's free. 
  • Nov. 18, 4 p.m. EDT - Join URL Media's Sonali Kohli, Disabled Journalists Association Media Narrative Director Cara Reedy and Jeff Lafata-Hernandez, founder/director of the Empowering People for Inclusive Communities for a conversation on understanding disability in the workplace
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