Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Media & Disability – No to prejudice, Yes to partnership

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By Duggirala Sesi

Despite the obvious cliché there is no denying that the media is the fourth estate. This stature grants the media certain privileges as well binds it to certain protocols. With the deluge of both print as well as electronic media in a market economy, it would be foolhardy to refute that media images and stories influence thinking and social norms. Choice of words, images and messages define to the individuals, the world around them .The extent and manner in which People with Disabilities (PWDs) are portrayed and the frequency with which they appear in the media has an enormous impact on how they are perceived in the society. Media awareness will establish a mechanism for monitoring and informing Disability coverage in news reports, dramatic representations and reporting on the internet with the goal to advance accurate reporting of Disability issues and promote positive images of people with disability.

Portrayal of persons with disability with dignity and respect, contrary to the stigmatized or stereotyped pitiable objects or super heroic emblems of accomplishment and endurance in the media can promote more inclusive and tolerant societies. This becomes more important, because PWDs constitute nearly 10 to 12 percent of the global population, but continue to remain the ‘invisible minority’ due to exclusion and discrimination from basic services like health, education, training and work/ career opportunities. In addition most families and persons with disability lack access to information on policies, law, programmes and services that affect their day to day living. This knowledge gap further hinders their participation in all walks of life, creating apartheid like situation. The person with disability is therefore left to counter stigma, fear, stereotypes, demeaning isolation, negative and inaccurate attitude and misinformation.

Hence a thoughtful in-depth media attention to Disability can change the scenario. Media in all its forms today can be a potent force in countering stigma and misinformation and a powerful ally in changing perceptions, eliminating discrimination and raising public awareness. Recently a report published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), brought out guidelines for Media – which were intended for all people working as editors, journalists, broadcasters, producers, programme makers and presenters. This was equally relevant to people working as web designers and editors, and also for those working on interactive multimedia products.

Aspects like the use of ‘Persons- first’ terminology’- (referring to the person and not his disability), prejudice – free language, ethical portrayal and use of correct statistical data, have been vital for media awareness. Adapting measures like the British Media, on collaborative projects on Media and Disability can go a long way in realizing the objectives. The formation of a media advisory committee including journalists, media scholars, and activists in either field, can initiate a strong relationship with the media industry to start dissemination of information on Disability issues. Capacity building can be a major focus to inform Media disability coverage through research, monitoring, and evaluation. The media like any other industry should seek to employ people with disabilities, thereby paving the way from being preachers to path -breakers. People with disability nurture certain expectations from the media in vital areas like -media being able to play a dual role in generating awareness, and projecting realistic imagery of the lives of the PWDs and focuses on planners, service providers, and authorities for introducing conducive environment and systems that are disabled – friendly. An informal study has revealed that different stereotypes in the media still persist. The shift from ‘charity’ to a ‘Rights’ based approach has been the focus of the Disability Activists. This would enable to create and sustain role models in this sector. Again media needs to get out of the stereotyped mindset that makes assumptions about what PWDs can and can’t do , which is contrary to the fact that a range of abilities among PWDs are enormous. Another important aspect is that the Media coverage of Disability related issues has largely been event – based in spite of the great social and humanitarian relevance to these issues. There is hence a need for greater involvement of the media in highlighting Disability as a Developmental issue.

On similar grounds, there are expectations also of the Media from persons with Disabilities, and allied social sectors. Some of these include an array of flexible and timely options for communicating directly to media, as unwillingness to communicate could lead to negative stories, alleging the organizations involved of lack of transparency. Adopting strategies for a collaborative relationship with the media can then bring the organization’s objective and innovative work into the focus of the society at large, overshadowing the challenges of societal apathy, prejudice due to rigid attitudes, low level of awareness on the different categories of disability, lack of interaction and coordination amongst the different voluntary and governmental agencies in the disability / social sector and lack of accountability.

On this note, a few suggestive measures can go a long way in achieving the objectives of media – disability collaboration. Media studies can have course curriculum on Disability legislation and policies, highlighting the User’s perspective in the policy formulation and implementation. Media can help prepare databases on prevalence, incidence and beneficiaries of Programmes, and bridge the gap between the Voluntary sectors and the Government. Unfortunately those millions of persons with Disabilities don’t make sensational headlines as film stars or politicians because they are hard to sell news, but projecting a person with disabilities negotiating in a barrier filled environment, successfully doing his day to day living skills, might as well serve the purpose as well underline the need for creating awareness about and emphasising the importance of a barrier free environment. The story of Malini Chib whose overwhelming efforts to fight disability led Prannoy Roy of NDTV to say, “If I were half the person that Malini is, I would have become twice the man I am today.” Focussing on such stories should however be more often, thus encouraging many more Malinis. Instances like these could be manifold, but as organizations and institutions coming together to observe the 3rd of DEC’12 as the International day of the Disabled one must not only resort to it a as a mere ritualistic gesture, but also acknowledge that there is a large part of the road which has been left untraveled and the media being a force multiplier coupled with the efforts done by and for the persons with disability can hope to reach those who are yet beyond the accessible.

( Duggirala Sesi is a Rehabilitation professional and a Disability activist . She is presently the Campus Head of ICFAI University, Meghalaya, Tura campus. She may be reached at [email protected])

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