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Ford Foundation sharpens focus on sponsoring disability rights

A new essay by the Ford Foundation’s Program Officer, Noorain F. Khan, outlines their expanding  philanthropic initiatives to support disability rights. Below is an excerpt from the essay. Click on the heading to read the full essay and learn more about all the excellent disability-related organizations they’re sponsoring, including the NCDJ.

Why disability rights are central to social justice work—and what we’re doing about it

Last fall, Darren Walker wrote an essay urging all of us to acknowledge our personal biases, and to understand how those biases can fuel injustice and inequality. Darren’s call grew out of his own awakening: the realization, brought to light by friends and activists, that for all the foundation’s attention to challenging inequality, we hadn’t accounted for the huge community of people living with disabilities. It was a humbling moment, he wrote.

As the past year has shown, it has also proven to be a consequential one. It quickly became clear that our focus on inequality demands that we think seriously about disability issues. It became equally clear that across all our programs, the specific outcomes and goals we’re working to achieve simply cannot be accomplished without addressing the needs, concerns, and priorities of people with disabilities. And so, guided by the disability movement’s mantra, “nothing about us without us,” we’ve been working to confront ableism and expand participation and inclusion on both the institutional and individual levels. It turned out we had a lot to learn.

As the program officer in the office of the president, I steward some of the foundation’s exploratory grant making under Darren’s direction, assessing and investing in new ideas that don’t yet have a home elsewhere in the foundation. Among those efforts, I lead our exploration of how inequality impacts the more than one billion people with disabilities around the world. Over the past year, I’ve met with more than 80 activists, leaders, self-advocates, and funders who focus on people with disabilities. It has been a profound privilege to spend time with and learn from them, and the result has been what I believe is some of the most urgent and meaningful work of my professional life. (Click here to continue reading…)

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.

Woodruff wins Cronkite Award and thanks NCDJ

Judy Woodruff received the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism today during a ceremony in downtown Phoenix. The annual award is given to a prominent journalist who embodies the integrity and impeccable professionalism of Cronkite himself. This year’s award was given to Woodruff and her late PBS NewsHour co-anchor Gwen Ifill. Ifill’s brother accepted the award on her behalf.

Woodruff gave an inspiring acceptance speech that can be seen on the Cronkite School’s online Vimeo channel HERE. She encouraged young reporters to pursue investigative journalism and credited the mainstream media for breaking recent headline news about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment scandal and lobbying by the drug industry.

Woodruff also thanked the National Center for Disability Journalism for its work promoting awareness of disability stories. Listen for Woodruff’s kind remarks about the NCDJ and its director Kristin Gilger at minute 4:07 of her speech.

Romanian mother resolves to change disability language in her country

By Jenna Miller

Nine years ago when Ruxandra Mateescu’s daughter, Olga, was born with special needs, she was stunned at the lack of information and the gaps in care.

“When Olga was born I tried to look up with Google what retarded means because the doctor said when she grew up she would be retarded or maybe dead or a vegetable. He used words like that,” Mateescu said in a Skype interview.

Mateescu lives in Bucharest, the capital city of Romania and is fluent in both English and Romanian. People with disabilities don’t have many rights in Romania, and much of the public is uninformed about disability issues, “like the fifties in the United States,” she said.

In addition, the Romanian health care system is difficult to navigate, Mateescu said, and she couldn’t figure out where to go to get more information about her child. Even after nine years and many doctors visits, Olga has never had an official diagnosis to classify her disability.

A journalist who worked for a parenting website, Mateescu did what came to her naturally: She started blogging about her daughter, their lives and the struggles she faced trying to find information and support. Other parents responded and asked her to keep writing. She now runs a website that features stories of people with disabilities and their families.

“I started writing when I was very angry, so my writing was very angry on everybody,” she said. “Many of them [other parents] told me that I was courageous… I don’t know.”

Mateescu said it was taboo in her country to even talk about disabilities when she started her blog, but the situation is slowly improving. Now there are more blogs devoted to the subject and mainstream media also has begun to show interest. However, Mateescu calls most of the reporting shallow and says the focus is “on the pity element.” Pejorative language and offensive terms are still common in mainstream news both on television and in newspapers.

“If experienced journalists are doing that, they don’t realize that it is wrong,” she said “Somebody has to say, it’s not okay– this is how you do it.”

One day Mateescu was searching the internet for resources on disability issues and she happened upon the National Center on Disability and Journalism’s style guide, which provides guidance on words and terms related to disability. She thought it would be a great help to journalists and communicators in her country, but there was a problem: The English language guide would have to be translated into Romanian.

She started by sending an email to the center at Arizona State University asking for permission to undertake a translation. “I wrote and I said, ‘Well, they will never answer back they are huge,’ and I received the email one morning, and I was like ‘Wow, they answered.’ We are not used to that reaction of kindness.”

Across the world in Phoenix, Arizona, NCDJ Director Kristin Gilger said she had long hoped to have the guide, which contains almost 100 words and terms, translated into other languages. She immediately said yes.

Mateescu then put out a call on social media for help. Seven volunteers responded — friends, relatives and even an English teacher who happened to be her manicurist’s husband. Together they combed through the guide. Some words didn’t translate or didn’t exist in Romanian. For those, the group did their best to supply the closest Romanian approximation. They worked quickly. It took one week to translate the guide and another to check it and get it ready for publication.

Once completed, Mateescu tried to get the style guide out to as many people as possible by posting it on her website and on social media. She said she immediately starting getting “likes” and “shares.” She is now setting up meetings with journalists and parents to discuss the guide and advocate for its use by Romanian journalists.

Along with improvements in language, Mateescu hopes to see more investigative stories about the lack of support and infrastructure for people with disabilities in her country. According to a report compiled by the Academic Network of European Disability Experts, 24 percent of children with disabilities in Romania are not registered for any form of education. The 24 percent includes Mateescu’s daughter, Olga.

The situation isn’t much better for adults with disabilities. The same report shows that fewer than 16 percent of people with disabilities are employed. It is common for people to stop and stare at people with visible disabilities in public. And Mateescu says it’s almost impossible for people with physical disabilities to get around her home city of Bucharest. Many public buildings, busses and metro stations don’t have elevators or ramps, and most homes are difficult to get into and out of for those using wheelchairs.

Mateescu says it is painful to think about the challenges her daughter will face when she grows up, but she tries to focus on fighting for the things she can change.

“I don’t know if my daughter will have some benefits from that, but, for sure, the next generation of parents will be much better off than my generation is now,” she said.

NCDJ featured in CJR article on tips for covering disability beat

Wendy Lu from the Columbia Journalism Review interviewed NCDJ Director Kristin Gilger about this site’s advice for covering disability beats. Some top recommendations include being wary of “inspiration porn” and avoiding words that “assume a negative relationship between people and their disabilities (e.g. wheelchair-bound).” Check out more tips from the article by clicking HERE.

NCDJ Welcomes Two New Board Members

The National Center on Disability and Journalism  is excited to welcome two new board members, Amy Silverman and Becky Curran.

Amy Silverman is an accomplished journalist, currently the managing editor at the Phoenix New Times. In addition, she is a commentator at KJZZ, the National Public Radio affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is author of the book, “My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome” and the blog, “Girl in a Party Hat”. She lives in Phoenix with her daughters, Annabelle and Sophie, and her husband, Ray.

Becky Curran owns and manages DisABILITY in Media, which promotes talents of people with disabilities using storytelling and social media. She is also the chapter president of Little People of America in New York City. She has delivered motivational speeches from TEDx talks to schools, corporations and nonprofits. Curran was born with achondroplasia, a common type of short-limbed dwarfism. She works to change the way the world reacts to people with disabilities, including the 30,000 little people that live in the United States.

Curran and Silverman join other talented professionals in providing advice and support to the NCDJ.

Katherine Schneider Journalism Award for Excellence in Reporting on Disability

The 2017 Katherine Schneider Journalism Award for Excellence in Reporting on Disability is the only journalism contest devoted exclusively to recognizing excellence in the coverage of people with disabilities and disability issues.

The winner of the 2017 contest will be announced in October. Entries for the 2017-2018 contest year will be accepted beginning in May 2018.

Awards are given to individuals or teams, with prizes of $5,000 for first place, $1,500 for second place and $500 for third place. Judges also may award honorable mentions.

The Schneider award is administered each year by the NCDJ, which is part of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. It is supported by a gift from Katherine Schneider, a retired clinical psychologist who also supports the Schneider Family Book Award, which honors the best children’s book each year that captures the disability experience for children and adolescents. That award is administered by the American Library Association.

In 2016, the top NCDJ Schneider award went to Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter Chris Serres for “A Matter of Dignity,” an investigation into the segregation and neglect of hundreds of Minnesotans who are part of a system of state-subsidized sheltered workshops for people with disabilities. 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.

Entries are judged by professional journalists and disability experts based on the following criteria:

  • Explore and illuminate key legal or judicial issues regarding the treatment of people with disabilities;
  • Explore and illuminate government policies and practices regarding disabilities;
  • Explore and illuminate practices of private companies and organizations regarding disabilities;
  • Go beyond the ordinary in conveying the challenges experienced by people living with disabilities and strategies for meeting these challenges;
  • Offer balanced accounts of key points of controversy in the field and provide useful information to the general public;
  • Special consideration will be given to entries that are accessible to those with disabilities. For example, broadcast pieces that are available in transcript form and text stories that are accessible to screen readers. All entries will be published on the NCDJ website in accessible formats.

Schneider, who has been blind since birth, hopes the award will help journalists improve their coverage of disability issues, moving beyond “inspirational” stories that don’t accurately represent the lives of people with disabilities. “That kind of stuff is remarkable, but that’s not life as most of us live it,” she said.

The NCDJ, which has been housed at the Cronkite School since 2008, offers resources and materials for journalists covering disability issues and topics. For more information, visit our About page.

Coverage on the Attack of a Disabled Man in Chicago

The attack and kidnapping of a man with mental disabilities in Chicago—the act streamed over Facebook Live—has spurred a host of new media reports on violence and disability over the past week.

Here’s some of the reporting: