Outlets adjust scope of disability coverage

Most media outlets have traditionally covered people with disabilities via their health and public-policy reporting, including equality and accessibility issues.

Most media outlets have traditionally covered people with disabilities via their health and public-policy reporting, including equality and accessibility issues.

However, various disability-specific outlets covering these issues also provide lifestyle, news-you-can use, and technology stories, going beyond the scope of traditional coverage. In the past, most outlets largely focused on healthcare coverage and disability-related education and legislation.

“We don't just cover policy or health issues,” says Josie Byzek, managing editor of New Mobility, which has a primary audience of people who use wheelchairs. “We do travel stories and general interest stories, and our readers... like profiles.”

Chet Cooper, editor-in-chief of Ability, adds that his title's editorial emphasis focuses increasingly on a vast array of activities for people with disabilities, including a new section for a growing number of disabled people gravitating toward motor sports.

“We started off as advocates, but now we're a lot more about lifestyle and can be very broad in the topics we cover,” he notes.

The mainstream media is picking up a focus on the everyday lives of the disabled, as well, says Abbie Fink, VP and GM at HMA Public Relations. She adds that ensuring media outlets use proper language in their coverage is now more of a challenge than trying to generate media coverage in itself.

“‘Handicapped' is not a word you use any more; it's a person with a disability,” notes Fink, who counts advocacy group Arizona Bridge to Independent Living as a client. “Reporters... need to avoid terms like ‘confined to a wheelchair.'”

Megan Turek, managing editor and webmaster at Closing the Gap, explains that while inspirational stories about people with disabilities are still in demand, she and other journalists in the space look more often for real-world solutions.

“We want practical examples and strategies on how people implement assistive technologies,” she says.

Leslie Gottlieb, director of communications at Lighthouse International, adds that some disabilities can also be integrated into larger health trend coverage.

Gottlieb is gaining media interest for clients by noting that more than 60 million people will be at risk of vision loss in the coming years because of aging, diabetes, and diseases.

“We now get reporters covering the obesity epidemic, calling us for information on diabetes and vision loss,” she says.

Fink adds that the Web plays a large role in disability media because it can serve as an information source for people with specific disabilities. However, she stresses that Web sites have to present online content for the disabled sensitively.

“Make sure your content and sites are 100% accessible, so they can be used by people with voice-activated computers or who need larger print,” she says.

Pitching...disability aids

Stress to reporters the importance of the right language when writing disability-themed stories. Even terms like “special needs” are upsetting to some groups

Look to pitch disability-themed angles into seasonal stories, like including a reminder to consumers to never use handicap parking spaces when writing about holiday shopping

Provide mainstream editors with statistics highlighting that people with disabilities are not only integral parts of their communities, but also avid media consumers

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