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Call for entries! 2018 application period now open for disability reporting contest

The National Center on Disability and Journalism is accepting entries for the 2018 Ruderman Family Awards for Excellence in Reporting on Disability.

This award is the only journalism contest devoted exclusively to disability coverage.

The Ruderman Family Awards for Excellence in Reporting on Disability recognize the best reporting on disability issues and people with disabilities that is being done in the U.S. and abroad.

More than $20,000 in cash awards will be given to first-, second- and third-place winners in large media and small media categories.

There is no entry fee for the competition, which is open to digital, broadcast and print media outlets.

Contest entries are due by midnight on Aug. 6, 2018. Entries must have been published or aired between July 1, 2017, and July 31, 2018. Entries are accepted from outside the U.S., although the work submitted must be in English. Awards are given to individuals or teams.

The 2018 winners will be recognized at a fall 2018 ceremony in Washington, D.C., featuring a keynote speaker on disability coverage as well as a disability reporting workshop for journalists.

To enter, visit 2018 Disability Contest.

The Ruderman contest is administered by the National Center on Disability and Journalism at Arizona State University with support from the Ruderman Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization that advocates for the full inclusion of people with disabilities in society, and from Katherine Schneider, a retired clinical psychologist who lives with a disability.

Awards will be given in a large media category and in a small media category, as described below.

Large Media Market Category

  • Print media: Newspapers with 200,000 circulation or more (largest single day, including digital replica), wire services, magazines and weeklies with a national audience
  • Broadcast media: Network, cable or syndicated television programs with a national audience, radio outlets or radio syndicators with a national or international reach
  • Digital media: Web-only media outlets with regional, multi-state or national audiences.

Small Media Market Category

  • Print media – newspapers of under 200,000 circulation  
  • Broadcast: Local network affiliates or independent television stations serving primarily local markets
  • Digital media: Web-only media outlets that serve primarily local or a single state markets

Winners in the large media market category will receive prizes of $10,000 for first place, $2,500 for second place and $1,000 for third place. Winners in the small media market category will receive a Katherine Schneider Medal as well as cash awards of $5,000 for first place, $1,500 for second place and $500 for third place.

Entries are judged by professional journalists and disability experts. Past judges have included “PBS NewsHour” anchor Judy Woodruff; Tony Coelho, a former six-term U.S. congressman from California and the primary sponsor of the Americans With Disabilities Act; and former Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Leon Dash.

Judges are looking for work that:

  • Explores and illuminates key legal or judicial issues regarding the treatment of people with disabilities;
  • Explores and illuminates government policies and practices regarding disabilities;
  • Explores and illuminates practices of private companies and organizations regarding disabilities;
  • Goes beyond the ordinary in conveying the challenges experienced by people living with disabilities and strategies for meeting these challenges;
  • Offers balanced accounts of key points of controversy in the field and provide useful information to the general public;
  • Special consideration is 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.

The contest is administered by the National Center on Disability and Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU. The NCDJ provides resources and materials for journalists who cover disability and has run a national disability journalism awards program in Schneider’s name since 2013.

Past winners have included journalists from The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Center for Investigative Reporting, WAMU public radio in Washington, D.C, ProPublica and the Business World of India. An archive of winning entries can be found at

For questions, contact Nicole Koester at

When Addiction, Opioids, and Disability Meet

When Addiction, Opioids, and Disability Meet

By Mary Wilson,

Contemplative man with city in background
Image via Unsplash

Living with a disability can have a serious impact on a person’s wellbeing, especially when that disability comes with chronic pain. The challenges of living with daily pain contribute to substance abuse rates that are two to four times higher in the disability community than the general population. While alcohol abuse and illicit drug use contribute to the high rate of substance abuse among people with disabilities, many develop problems related to prescribed narcotic medications.

According to a 2014 report published on Science Daily, more than 40 percent of all Social Security Disability Insurance recipients take opioid pain relievers, and more than 20 percent are chronic users of opioids. These numbers are concerning for a number of reasons. Not only does chronic use of opioids carry a heightened risk of addiction, but researchers are beginning to call into question whether the long-term use of opioids is actually appropriate or effective in the treatment of non-cancer chronic pain.

While some patients have success using long-term opioid therapy to manage pain associated with their disability, others find that as their tolerance to the drugs increases, they require ever-higher doses to reap the same benefit. While tolerance and dependence don’t equate to addiction, they do increase risk. And as the IASP Pain Research Forum points out, higher doses are associated with an increased risk of overdose and death. Even if overdose never enters the picture, death can still result from side effects of opioid use, such as the exacerbation of sleep-disordered breathing leading to cardiovascular death.

Nonetheless, opioids remain as one of the leading treatments for pain, and many people with disabilities rely on opioid pain relievers to keep their daily symptoms manageable. For chronic users, the focus then turns to responsible use to reduce the risk of addiction.

Responsible opioid use begins with doctors: Rather than freely prescribing opioid pain relievers or shunning them outright, doctors must take a balanced approach to these risk-laden drugs. In practical terms, that means not using opioids as a first line of defense against pain, instead directing patients toward alternative remedies like physical therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as non-opioid pharmacologic therapies, before turning to opioids. When opioids are the appropriate choice, the goal should be to maintain the lowest-effective dose rather than consistently increasing dosages. Physicians must also apply risk assessment tools, screen for contraindicated medications, and carefully monitor patients’ health status after initiating opioid therapy.

Patients, too, have a role to play in managing the risk of long-term opioid use. People who use opioids to treat disability-related pain must be careful to always follow their doctor’s instructions. Steps should be taken to prevent double-dosing and alcohol and illicit drugs should be abstained from while under opioid therapy. Physicians should be informed of all drugs a patient uses, including over-the-counter medications. Opioids should be locked up when not in use and unused medication discarded to prevent unauthorized access by someone other than the prescription holder. Finally, patients should employ nonpharmacologic self-management strategies, such as a healthy diet, adequate sleep, physical activity, and mental health management to improve their overall wellbeing.

While opioids are central to the discussion of addiction and disability, they aren’t the only substance putting the health of people with disabilities at risk. While self-medication with alcohol and illicit drugs can provide temporary relief from the physical and mental pains of disability, it’s a coping mechanism fraught with risks. Drugs and alcohol can interact dangerously with prescribed medications, contribute to poor overall health, and reduce a person’s ability to follow treatment and self-management regimens. Long-term use also contributes to the development of secondary conditions that worsen quality of life, such as depression, organ damage, gastrointestinal problems, and infectious diseases, among others.

Living with a disability is challenging enough without adding a substance abuse disorder into the mix. While advising people with disabilities to avoid alcohol and illicit drugs is relatively straightforward, addiction prevention is complicated when addictive substances are part of a prescribed treatment program. Adequate assessment, monitoring, and cooperation between doctors and patients is essential for preventing opioid use disorders in people with disabilities.

Mary Wilson is the abilities editor for Ability Wellness. She can be reached through AbleWell,org.

Hawking’s death prompts debate on disability language

The death this week of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking was mourned by millions of fans around the world. His passing also prompted several important conversations about how his disabilities should be discussed in the media, especially in the context of his remarkable professional achievements.

Several disability advocates on Twitter, such as Alice Wong, recommended writers “avoid subjective language” such as “suffered from ALS” and focus on Hawking’s scientific contributions without turning them into “inspiration porn.” Andrew Gurza, a self-described “Professional Queer Cripple” and creator of the podcast “Disability After Dark” wrote an opinion essay for Men’s Health explaining why wheelchair use shouldn’t be described as “confining” or something Hawking was “freed from.”

In an article for the Los Angeles Times, science reporter Jessica Roy quotes several disability experts who agreed Hawking’s advocacy for disability awareness should be more visible. In an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio Lawrence Carter-Long emphasized that Hawking didn’t “overcome his disability to achieve the things he did,” but instead he accomplished them “while he was disabled.”

Medical schools heighten focus on undergraduate accessibility

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) published a report today outlining common barriers to medical education faced by med school students with disabilities. The research on this topic was prompted by the AAMC‘s desire to promote diversity among its student, faculty and professional membership, and facilitate the standardization of accommodations. The report suggests that, although more medical school students are self-identifying as having disabilities, a culture of competition still promotes stigma around disability. Philadelphia public radio’s (WHYY) Elana Gordon wrote a short article summarizing the AAMC report and the responses it prompted from disability rights advocates.

U.N. report highlights disability issues in Africa are neglected as economies develop

The U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) published a report analyzing disability issues in Kenya, Zambia, Uganda and Sierra Leone. The report is titled “Bridging the Gap: Examining disability and development in four African countries.” The report was published on, UNOCHA’s online news source for humanitarian experts. The report examines how disability accommodations are frequently neglected as other community services develop.

Winter Paralympic Games airing on NBC channels and apps March 9-18

The competition in PyeongChang isn’t over! NBC will air the Winter Paralympic Games on NBCSN, Olympic Channel, and the NBC Sports app from March 9-18. Coverage begins with the opening ceremony tonight at 6 a.m. ET on NBCSN. If you’d like an early preview check out Ben Shpigel’s report and Chang W. Lee’s glossy photos for the New York Times.

Click here to see the schedule of events and broadcast times on NBCSN.

Team USA in the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang.
Team USA in the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Paralympics in PyeongChang.

Medicaid providing subsidies for health services in public schools

Many American public schools rely on Medicaid to subsidize the cost of school psychiatrists and therapeutic services, but some critics suggest the funding is misused and expanding too quickly. Anna Gorman and Carmen Heredia Rodriguez wrote a special report for CNN and Kaiser Health News outlining the numerous ways Medicaid is utilized by schools to provide health services to low-income students, but also to cover general budget shortfalls. As the story reports, pubic policy think tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation, oppose Medicaid expansion and advocate for closer oversight.

‘The Silent Child’ about deaf girl wins 2018 Oscar for Best Short Film

A short film about a 4-year-old deaf girl called “The Silent Child” won the 2018 Academy Award for Best Short Film (Live Action). The film’s title character is played by Maisie Sly who is deaf in real life. The film was written by UK actress Rachel Shenton and directed by her fiancé Chris Overton. During the awards ceremony Shenton used American Sign Language to translate her acceptance speech, which doubled as a passionate description of communication challenges faced by children with disabilities.

“Our movie is about a deaf child being born into a world of silence,” said Shenton. “It’s not exaggerated or sensationalized for the movie. This is happening, millions of children all over the world live in silence and face communication barriers, and particularly access to education. Deafness is a silent disability. You can’t see it and it’s not life-threatening, so I want to say the biggest of ‘Thank yous’ to the Academy for allowing us to put this in front of a mainstream audience. ”

CLICK HERE to watch the trailer for “The Silent Child”. CLICK BELOW to watch Shenton and Overton’s acceptance speech.

Labeling mass shooters as “sickos” perpetuates mental health stigmas

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) released a statement condemning the imprecise language recently used by public figures to discuss the connection between mental health and mass shootings. President Trump and Dana Loesch, a spokesperson for the National Rifle Association, used words including “sicko,” “nuts” and “crazy person” to describe the diagnoses of mass shooter Nikolas Cruz. The NAMI statement criticizes such comments as reinforcing “inaccurate and negative stereotypes” that “create barriers to having real conversations about how to improve the mental health services that lead to recovery and participation in American society by people experiencing mental health conditions.” interviewed several mental health experts who also suggested that mental illness is not a reliable condition for predicting violent behavior. Click here to read NAMI’s statement and click here to read CNN’s article.

Update to NCDJ award-winning story “Suffering in Secret” reports continued problems

The Chicago Tribune published a followup investigative report to its award-winning story “Suffering in Secret” and unfortunately the promised reforms of Illinois group homes have not materialized. Michael J. Berens, the reporter who co-wrote “Suffering in Secret” with Patricia Callahan, penned the update and highlights several specific problems the group homes failed to correct. The story also features a compelling video interview with Peggy Strong, the mother of a daughter with disabilities whose health improved after being moved from a group home to a large institutional facility. Click here to read the article and click here to watch the video interview.