By Rachel Konieczny
National Center on Disability and Journalism
Hannah Wise is on a mission to improve the coverage of disability in the U.S. and make sure news is accessible to the more than 6 million Americans who live with a disability.
Wise is one of eight Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute fellowship recipients for the 2021-22 academic year. Formerly a social strategy editor at The New York Times, Wise brings to the project years of experience building relationships between journalists and the communities they cover at the Times and the Dallas Morning News.
For her fellowship at the University of Missouri, she is creating a toolkit to help newsrooms understand how to better cover disability and how to make news products more accessible.
“Every beat is a disability beat, and not just around disability awareness,” Wise said. “It is our job as journalists to speak with accuracy and avoid euphemism, and I think that there’s a big opportunity across the industry for us to raise the bar.”
Part of her project entails creating a form for news organizations to use to find out what questions readers have about disability and what local and national coverage they would like to see.
“We want to make sure that we are providing the information that people want and need,” she said. “The best way to do that is to ask them: What do you want and need?”
In addition to helping news organizations improve their coverage of disability, she hopes to help them learn and use accessibility technology, such as alt text, captions and screen readers.
Wise said part of the challenge is that people are uncomfortable dealing with disability, and journalists are no exception. “Unless you have a disability or someone in your sphere has one, then people are just kind of like, ‘I don’t want to offend anyone’,” she said.
She said the current pandemic makes it more important than ever for journalists to include perspectives from the disability community in their stories.
“I view my job as a journalist to help my community and my readers live smarter, healthier, happier, and more equitable lives,” she said. “At the core, our job is to provide information that people can then take and digest and then inform whatever decision they are going to make.”
As part of her project, Wise, who identifies as a disabled journalist, also created a newsletter, “Disability Matters.” To sign up, go to https://gmail.us6.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=38c612681d8b3e13200731c90&id=137008ef16.