contest archive

Chicago Tribune Wins 2017 Disability Reporting Award

A Chicago Tribune investigation into the mistreatment of disabled adults in Illinois group homes won the top honor in the 2017 Katherine Schneider Journalism Award for Excellence in Reporting on Disability, the only journalism awards competition devoted exclusively to disability reporting.

In “Suffering in Secret,” Tribune reporters Michael J. Berens and Patricia Callahan identified more than 1,300 cases of documented harm since July 2011 in Illinois’ taxpayer-funded group homes and their day programs. The reporters uncovered at least 42 deaths linked to abuse or neglect in group homes or their day programs and uncovered state records of residents fatally choking on improperly prepared food, succumbing to untreated bed sores and languishing in pain from undiagnosed ailments.

Second place went to the Brian M. Rosenthal of the Houston Chronicle. Third place was awarded to Mona Yeh, Sonya Green and Yuko Kodama for reports aired on Seattle-Tacoma public radio station 91.3 KBCS, and honorable mention went to Belo Cipriani of The Bay Area Reporter.

“PBS NewsHour” anchor Judy Woodruff, who served as a judge, noted that the Chicago Tribune’s investigation had real consequences in Illinois, where state officials vowed increased transparency and oversight of taxpayer-funded group homes and legislators are considering laws to force reforms. The license of one group home provider highlighted in the series was revoked, and residents were moved to other facilities. “The amount of time that went into this project and what the reporters were able to uncover just blew me away,” Woodruff said.

The three-part series was a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting as well as the winner of the Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Journalism and an Investigative Reporters and Editors Award in 2016.

Berens and Callahan will accept the first-place award and a $5,000 cash prize Nov. 27 at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, where they also will deliver a public talk on their work. Their appearance, which is part of the school’s “Must See Mondays” lecture series, will be at 7 p.m. in the school’s First Amendment Forum. It is free of charge and open to the public, and sign language interpreting and captioning services will be provided.

The second place Schneider award and a $1,500 prize were awarded to Rosenthal of the Houston Chronicle for an investigation that revealed how Texas officials systematically denied special education services to thousands of children. The seven-part series, “Denied,” found that Texas placed a cap on how many children could receive special education services, saving billions of dollars but denying services to children with disabilities ranging from epilepsy and blindness to autism and attention deficit disorder.

Judges said they were shocked by Rosenthal’s revelations. The state’s actions, they said, showed a complete disregard for children with disabilities and their families.

Third place and a $500 prize went to Yeh, Green and Kodama for two radio pieces chronicling the experiences of one wheelchair user trying to navigate public transportation in Seattle. “Dorian Wants Transit Policy Toward Disabled Persons to Change,” aired on the Seattle-Tacoma public radio station 91.3 KBCS and was supported by the Association of Independents in Radio.

Cipriani, who is blind, received an honorable mention and a $250 prize for a series, “Seeing in the Dark,” published in the Bay Area Reporter. Cipriani writes about the disabled community in the Bay Area, challenging stereotypes about disability ranging from sex to parenting.

Judge Tony Coelho, a former six-term U.S. congressman from California and the primary sponsor of the Americans With Disabilities Act, said Cipriani is an important voice and one of a growing number of people with disabilities who are “writing about the everyday lives of people with disabilities.” Too often, he said, reporting on disabilities is “about us” rather than “by us.”

In addition to Coelho and Woodruff, the judges for this year’s contest were Pulitzer Prize-winning former Washington Post reporter Leon Dash, now Swanlund Chair Professor of Journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Jennifer Longdon, a Phoenix-based writer, speaker, advocate and policy adviser on issues related to disability.

The Schneider Award was established in 2013 with the support of Schneider, a retired clinical psychologist who has been blind since birth and who also supports the national Schneider Family Book Awards. The reporting contest is administered by the National Center on Disability and Journalism at the Cronkite School.

Since 2013, the top Schneider Awards have gone to Ryan Gabrielson of California Watch, Dan Barry of The New York Times, Heather Vogell of ProPublica and Chris Serres of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Minneapolis Star Tribune Wins 2016 Disability Reporting Award

A Minneapolis Star Tribune investigation into state-subsidized sheltered workshops in Minnesota has won the top honor in the 2016 Katherine Schneider Journalism Award for Excellence in Reporting on Disability.

In “A Matter of Dignity,” Star Tribune reporter Chris Serres, along with reporter Glenn Howatt and photographer David Joles, reveals how hundreds of Minnesotans with developmental disabilities are segregated and neglected in a state system of sheltered workshops.

The investigation found that hundreds of adults with disabilities have been sent against their will to live in remote and dangerous group homes. The five-part series tells the stories of adults with Down syndrome who spend their days collecting trash for $2 an hour and workers with brain injuries who scrub toilets for half the minimum wage and relates how one young woman with bipolar disorder escaped from her group home and threw herself in front of a speeding car.

The Schneider Award is the only journalism awards competition devoted exclusively to disability reporting. It was established in 2013 with the support of Schneider, a retired clinical psychologist who has been blind since birth and who also supports the national Schneider Family Book Awards. The reporting contest is administered by the National Center on Disability and Journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Second place went to WAMU 88.5, the NPR station in Washington, D.C., and third place was awarded to ProPublica. Judges also gave an honorable mention to Business World in New Delhi, the first international news outlet to be honored in the contest.

Schneider Award judge Jennifer Longdon, a writer, speaker, advocate and policy adviser on disability issues, said the Minneapolis Star Tribune series was impressive for “its exhaustive chronicling of the experience of adults with disabilities in Minnesota — from the indignities of sheltered workshops to the hopeless years-long wait for vital services that never arrive. These memorable stories were masterfully told while preserving the dignity of the individuals profiled.”

Serres will accept the award and a $5,000 cash prize on behalf of the Star Tribune Nov. 28 at the Cronkite School, where he also will deliver a talk on his work to students, faculty and the public. His appearance, which is part of the school’s “Must See Mondays” lecture series, will be at 7 p.m. in the school’s First Amendment Forum. It is free of charge and open to the public, and sign language interpreting will be provided.

Judges awarded second place and a $1,500 prize to web producer and reporter Martin Austermuhle of WAMU public radio station in Washington, D.C., for “From Institution to Inclusion.” The series of radio broadcasts and digital reporting chronicled the history of a 40-year-old class action lawsuit that closed Forest Haven, the institution where residents of Washington, D.C., with intellectual and developmental disabilities were sent to live. Austermuhle also reported on the city’s difficulties in caring for residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Third place and a $500 prize went to David Epstein of ProPublica for “The DIY Scientist, the Olympian, and the Mutated Gene,” a story of do-it-yourself genetics that helped a 39-year-old Iowa mother named Jill Viles solve her mysterious degenerative muscle disorder. Working with “This American Life” producer Miki Meek, Epstein wrote the podcast script and narrated the story of Viles’ quest to understand what had caused her fat to melt away and her muscles to wither.

Business World of India correspondent Sonal Khetarpal received an honorable mention and a $500 prize for “Insensitive Inc.,” an accounting of employers in India who are implementing inclusive workplace practices, such as flex-time, for employees with Down syndrome and other disabilities.

In addition to Longdon, the judges for this year’s contest were Pulitzer Prize-winning former Washington Post reporter Leon Dash, now Swanlund Chair Professor of Journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; John Hockenberry, an award-winning reporter who hosts “The Takeaway,” a radio news program that airs on almost 200 stations across the country; and Amy Silverman, managing editor of the Phoenix New Times alternative newsweekly and the author of a new book, “My Heart Can’t Even Believe it: A Story of Science, Love and Down Syndrome.”

Since 2013, the top Schneider Awards have gone to Ryan Gabrielson of California Watch, Dan Barry of The New York Times and Heather Vogell of ProPublica.

“The winners have all produced important watchdog journalism that advances the understanding of disability,” said NCDJ Director Kristin Gilger, who is the associate dean of the Cronkite School. “The quality of this year’s entries was more impressive than ever, a sign that disability issues are beginning to receive the kind of media attention that is warranted, given the number of people who live with disabilities. We’re extremely proud of all of the winners and look forward to honoring Chris Serres in November.”

Katherine Schneider Journalism Awards Archive

2013 NCDJ Awards Archive
The following entries for the 2013 Katherine Schneider Journalism Award for Excellence in Reporting on Disability all earned points from judges for the quality of reporting on disability issues.


Broken Shield
California Watch, February 2012
Ryan Gabrielson
Read online.

Overview: The result of an 18-month investigation by Gabrielson for California Watch and its parent organization The Center for Investigative Reporting, “Broken Shield” exposes the routine failures of police to protect the developmentally disabled at California care institutions. The multipart series details how the Office of Protective Services, a police force charged with protecting the state’s most vulnerable citizens, botched investigations into claims of rape, torture and beatings of patients by staff members at development centers. Carrie Ching and Marina Luz produced an animated video, “In Jennifer’s Room,” to accompany the report, which also won the 2012 George Polk Award and the 2012 IRE Award and was a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize.

Autism Advantage
The New York Times Magazine, Nov. 29, 2012
Gareth Cook
Read online.

Overview: Pulitzer Prize winner and columnist Gareth Cook chronicles the story of the innovative Danish company Specialisterne, which employs people with autism to gain a competitive advantage in the business world. Founded by Thorkil Sonne, the father of a son with autism, Specialisterne (Danish for “Specialists) employs high-functioning autistic adults who are hired out as consultants. Sonne established the company in the belief that workers with autism could be the best person for certain roles.

Playing by Ear
Narratively, June 11, 2013
Daphnée Denis and Hoda Emam
Read online.

Overview: An abridged excerpt from the feature documentary “Shot in the Dark,” “Playing by Ear” profiles one young man’s dedication to the Paralympic sport goalball for the visually impaired. Filmmakers Denis and Emam follow one of New York State’s top goalball players Ibrahim Shahadat, who has a rare degenerative eye disease.

Second Chapter: A Portrait of Barry Corbet
Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, July/Aug. 2013
Broughton Coburn
Read online.

Overview: One-time Everest climber and Dartmouth alumnus Barry Corbet was paralyzed from the waist down in a helicopter crash in 1968. “Second Chapter” profiles how the thrill seeker transitioned to life in a wheelchair and became a high-profile advocate for the disabled.


Presented in alphabetical order by title of entry

Access Denied
Campus Technology, Nov. 2012 digital edition
David Raths
Read online.

Overview: While making university websites and course content accessible to students and employees with disabilities may be the law, many institutions are far from compliance. Campus Technology looks at three key elements of a more proactive approach to accessibility on campus. These include building accessibility into the IT procurement process, training faculty to make online courses and content more accessible and sharing best practices across the higher education system.

Boarding Homes Series
San Antonio Express-News, Aug.-Dec., 2012
Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje
Read online.

Overview: Hundreds of  boarding homes provide shelter and care to mentally disabled people in San Antonio with little to no regulatory oversight. In this series of articles, social services reporter Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje enumerates the haunting experiences of boarding home residents and their families, portraying a system that provides little help to those in financial and medical need.

Disability and Discrimination at the Doctor’s Office
The New York Times, May 23, 2013
Pauline Chen, MD
Read online.

Overview: Many doctors’ offices are ill prepared to offer even routine care to patients with disabilities. Through personal experience and an overview of a recent medical study, Dr. Pauline Chen lays bare a culture of discrimination against disabled patients by exposing offices unable to accommodate special equipment or outright refusing to book appointments.

Follow my steps
Wilson Quarterly, Jan. 22, 2012
Andrew Hida
Read online.

OverviewAndrew Cunningham is a typical 13 year-old. He complains about studying and spends hours playing on Xbox Live with friends. The only difference is he was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy and gets around with the use of  a powered wheelchair. Andrew finds a brother and guide in 21-year-old Tony Reuter, born with brittle bone disease and facing a milestone of his own. Andrew Hida first began reporting the story for a class project and eventually turned it into a master’s thesis and an International Motion Art Award-winning documentary.

For Wounded Vet, Love Pierces the Fog of War
The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 4, 2012
Michael M. Phillips
Read online.

Overview: Marine Corps veteran Ian Welch was wounded in a roadside attack during his first tour in Iraq in 2003 but continued to serve two more tours before military doctors determined his post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury qualified him as disabled. Today, Welch lives in Texas with his girlfriend, Katie Brickman, who earns a small stipend as his primary caregiver under a recent federal program for badly disabled veterans.

Matadi: Un reconfort spirituel pour les sourds-muets, Sept. 20, 2012
Alphonse Nekwa
Read online.

Overview: Forty formerly marginalized deaf parishioners are finding spiritual guidance and comfort in a unique church in Matadi, a coastal capital town in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The pastor of Yhwh Sabaoth uses the director of the only school for the deaf in the Bas-Congo province to translate his sermons into sign language. Article in French; read in Google Chrome for English translation.

Still, God Helps You
Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2013
Melissa Pritchard
Read online.

OverviewSnatched from a marketplace in Sudan and sold into slavery at the age of 6, William Mawwin became one of millions of people in the world to endure some form of involuntary servitude. Arizona State University English Professor Melissa Pritchard’s essay details Mawwin’s journey from a lost boy of a war-torn Sudan to a refugee in Egypt, where he lost his right hand and most of the fingers on his left in a work accident, and finally to a college student in America.

Technology For Life: How Students With Disabilities Are Attending College At Record Rates
KUNC, May 2, 2013
Jackie Fortier
Read online.

Overview: More students with disabilities are pursuing higher education than ever before. New accessible technology along with disability assistance is helping students such as Esha Mehta and Bill Casson earn graduate degrees at institutions like the University of Colorado. But still some gender and minority gaps remain, with more women attendingcollege and more white students attending both undergraduate and graduate school than minority students.

Zach’s Journey
The Dallas Morning News, July-Dec. 2012
Mark Ramirez
Read online.

OverviewRapidly and surely, Zach Thibodeaux is going blind — the result of a degenerative disease called cone-rod dystrophy that destroys the cells of the retina. Mark Ramirez followed Zach for two years, through the third and fourth grades as the Dallas boy learned what it would mean to be blind, find new hobbies and spread awareness of his incurable disease.