#NCDJChat: The National Center on Disability and Journalism’s First-Ever Twitter Chat

Heather Vogell

ProPublica reporter Heather Vogell

On November 30, the National Center on Disability and Journalism held its first ever Twitter chat with Heather Vogell, the winner of this year’s Katherine Schneider Journalism Award for Excellence in Reporting on Disability.

A Mom in Brooklyn Fights After Her Son With a Disability Misses Graduation

The mother of an 18-year-old man with a learning disability is lobbying New York education officials to make changes to its policies, so her son can receive his high school diploma. Her fight is just one of many, illustrating how parents of those with disabilities often have to advocate their children “get the services they require.” Read more

Making a Difference: ACT Deletes Offensive Sample Essay

As an instructor of two university-entrance exams, the SAT and ACT, I was disappointed recently that an official, sample ACT essay included a quite offensive assertion.

On the ACT website, an essay designed to exemplify a top score of 6 out of 6 argued that machines would lead to people being judged only on their ability, so “there is no reason for a person to remain after they have served their function.”

Then came this attack on two large groups of people: “This would warrant genocide against the elderly and the disabled because their burden on society would not be made up for by any production.”

I understand offensive content is not a factor in grading, but ACT Inc. shouldn’t choose its sample best essay to include such an odious argument.

Also, sticking merely to ACT’s grading rubric, the statement is not – and cannot possibly be – supported by evidence. On the contrary, the elderly and people with disabilities can be productive for society.

Consider 90-year-old former president Jimmy Carter, who, even after receiving a diagnosis of cancer, continues his work with the Carter Center, an organization that reduced the number of cases of the debilitating guinea worm disease from 3.5 million in 1986 to 126 last year.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had polio and used a wheelchair, was elected president for four terms. John Nash, who had paranoid schizophrenia, won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

Counterexamples of that assertion are not limited to famous people. Countless elderly and disabled people are productive members of society.

There is no support in the essay to indicate otherwise. Therefore, the general statement in the essay should have been attacked in ACT’s analysis because the assertion lacks support.

Instead, the analysis merely states that the essay “uses the concept of genocide, rather than a specific example of it, to refine and support the idea that comparisons between human and machine, even in the name of prosperity, reduce and devalue human qualities and pose a great danger to society.”

At least the essay considers genocide a “great danger to society.”

I contacted public relations at ACT Inc., and spokeswoman Katie Wacker responded promptly.

“Our interpretation of the sentence in question was not the same as yours, but we now see how it could be taken differently. With that in mind, we have decided to replace this essay entirely, as we have no wish to offend anyone. We apologize for our oversight in this case, and we will begin the process of selecting an alternative sample to illustrate this score level.”

On a lighter note, I’ll add that critics have long said the ACT and the SAT haven’t given students enough time to complete the essay. The new 40-minute ACT essay launching next month gives students 10 more minutes than the previous one, while the new SAT essay, launching in March, will double the time limit to 50 minutes. Yet, as I write this blog, a week has passed since ACT Inc. responded to my concerns, and ACT Inc. – the maker of the ACT — hasn’t yet posted a replacement of the essay. Maybe even 40 minutes isn’t enough.

Perhaps ACT Inc. needs help from some elderly or disabled people.

Richard J. Dalton Jr. is an advisory board member of the National Center on Disability and Journalism at Arizona State University and owner of Your Score Booster, which teaches the SAT and ACT.

ProPublica

Level 14: A Home for California’s Most Troubled Children Comes Undone

In this investigative series into one of California’s largest group homes for children with mental disabilities and emotional disorders, ProPublica journalists expose failures at nearly every level to protect its troubled residents. The insitution at the center of the story, FamiliesFirst in Davis, was raided by police in June 2013 after a year of responding to hundreds of calls about drug use, rape, violence and negligence. According to reporter Joaquin Sapien’s explanation of how the story was covered, the investigators obtained data through public records requests and drew from interviews with more than three dozen subjects, including social workers and children who worked and lived in the home.

Read more, and watch the accompanying documentary “Sule’s Story,” at ProPublica.

2015 NBC Universal Tony Coelho Media Scholarship

The American Association of People with Disabilities is now accepting applications for the 2015 NBC Universal Tony Coelho Media Scholarship. Four scholarships are available to undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities who are pursuing degrees in communications or media-relations. Each recipient will receive $5,625 for tuition and fees at their college or university.

The scholarship is named in honor of Tony Coelho, a former United States Representative from California and the primary author and sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Coelho also served as a judge for the second annual Katherine Schneider Journalism Award for Excellence in Reporting on Disability, administered through the NCDJ.

For more information about applying, visit the AAPD website and read below.AAPD

 

An IDEA for Tomorrow

Three high school seniors from Phoenix, Arizona, took home first place in their division for C-SPAN’s Student Cam 2015 documentary competition. “An IDEA for Tomorrow,” produced by Severiano Romo, Alexis Rainery and Molly Kerwick of the Metropolitan Arts Institute, showcases the single piece of federal legislation governing the education of children with disabilities– IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.