newspapersI may be retired from journalism, but the topic of how media covers issues important to the disability community still ranks high on my list of worries. So last week I got up very early from my nice, warm bed and headed over to a local college campus for a conference on that very subject.

The situation was grim a decade ago when I worked with newspaper reporters on writing more substantive stories about problems in housing, education, transportation and employment. A reporter would suggest a story on why the unemployment rate was so high in the disability community, but nine times out of ten, her editor would reject the idea and instead assign a story about a local high school basketball player who had Down syndrome and got to play half of one game.

At the conference last week I learned that coverage is still grim. A professor who monitors stories written about people with disabilities all over the world said no matter the country, the stories focus on one of these areas:

  1. Biomedical, heroic perspective (‘overcoming’ a disability)
  2. Charity case
  3. New medical breakthrough that will get rid of a disability
  4. Human rights

You won’t be surprised to learn that the majority of coverage falls into areas 1, 2 and 3. But if media coverage shapes societal attitudes and public policy, as the professor pointed out, then it would be in our best int