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2019 Contest Winners

Our contest archives contain results from every year of the Katherine Schneider Disability Reporting Contest.

Read about the 2019 winners here.

Ford Foundation unveiled their Creative Futures fellows last week.

CREATIVE FUTURES is a series of 40 provocations by thinkers across the spheres of arts and culture, documentary film, and journalism unfolding throughout the fall of 2020.

Read the full story here.

ProPublica Illinois, Chicago Tribune, Argus Leader win top prizes in 2020 Schneider Disability Reporting Competition

From left to right three women wearing black are pictured headshot style from the shoulders up.
Jennifer Smith Richards of the Chicago Tribune; and Jodi S. Cohen and Lakeidra Chavis of ProPublica Illinois.

The National Center on Disability and Journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication has announced winners of the 2020 Katherine Schneider Journalism Award for Excellence in Reporting on Disability, the only journalism contest devoted exclusively to the coverage of people with disabilities and disability issues.

Journalists working in digital, print and broadcast media from around the world competed for awards and cash prizes totaling $8,000. The NCDJ received more than 100 entries.

First place in the large media market category was awarded to “The Quiet Rooms,” an in-depth investigation by ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago Tribune. The project, written by Jennifer Smith Richards of the Chicago Tribune and Jodi S. Cohen and Lakeidra Chavis of ProPublica Illinois, investigated the practice of isolating school children, many of whom have disabilities. The journalists examined records from more than 100 school districts across Illinois, concluding that while seclusion is sometimes legal, in many instances it was used outside the bounds of the law in ways that were cruel and unjustified.

“Excellent reporting reveals unconscionable horrors inflicted on children with disabilities,” said Lisa Davis, an author and faculty member in the Communication Department at Santa Clara University, who served as one of the judges.

“The story also expertly shows the ignorance and frustration of overwhelmed staff and the desperation of parents,” she said. “Taken as a whole, the situation is an epic mess with an urgent need for help. The detailed reporting, including the logs with times and children’s quotes, really brings this story to life.”

Smith Richards, Cohen and Chavis will receive $2,500 and an invitation to participate in a virtual public lecture with the Cronkite School on Monday, Nov. 2, from 6 to 7 p.m.

Mike Elsen-Rooney of USA Today took second place in the large media market category for “Two Boys with the Same Disability Tried to Get Help.”

Elsen-Rooney explored what happened when the families of two boys from different backgrounds – living just 15 blocks apart in New York City – tried to get help for their children, both of whom struggled to learn to read. This story was part of a series from The Teacher Project and USA Today on private placements, and includes additional reporting from Sarah Carr, Sharon Lurye, and Ashley Okwuosa. Elsen-Rooney will receive $1,000.

Joseph Shapiro of National Public Radio won third place in the large media market category for his story “COVID-19 is a Disability Issue,” about the specific challenges faced by people with disabilities during the pandemic. Shapiro will receive $500.

Michael Schulson of Undark received honorable mention in the large media market for “The Physics, Economics, and Politics of Wheelchairs on Planes,” a look at the science behind airplanes and wheelchairs and an examination of the challenges faced by people who use wheelchairs 30 years after the passage of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act.

In addition to Davis, the judges for the large media market category were Jerry Ceppos, former dean of the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University, and Jennifer LaFleur, data editor for American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop.

First place in the small media market category was awarded to “Ignored: South Dakota is Failing Deaf Children,” an investigative series by Shelly Conlon of the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The project explored the systematic decisions that lawmakers, educators and state officials have made at every level, leading to a dire lack of access to resources, accommodations and Deaf teachers.

“This investigation by the Argus Leader takes a comprehensive look at how Deaf and hard of hearing children and their families have fallen through the cracks of South Dakota’s education system,” said judge Wendy Lu, a news editor and reporter at HuffPost who covers the intersection of disability, politics and culture. “The story reveals a pattern of negligence and a lack of responsibility from those in power, while taking great care to center the voices of the community that’s being affected the most.”

Conlon will receive $2,500 and is invited to participate in the virtual public lecture at the Cronkite School on Nov. 2.

Janine Zeitlin of The News-Press/Naples Daily News won second place in the small media market category for “Forsaken,” a five-part series that followed a young woman for a year, revealing the inadequacies of both Florida’s foster care and mental health systems. Zeitlin will receive $1,000.

Ed Williams of Searchlight New Mexico took third place in the small media market category for “Restraint, Seclusion, Deception,” in which Williams exposed that not only are isolation rooms and restraint techniques misused in Albuquerque, New Mexico, schools, the actions are often kept secret. Williams will receive $500.

Honorable mention in the small media market category was awarded to Naaz Modan of Education Dive for “Special Needs Students Often Pay Price in Efforts to Strengthen School Safety,” which revealed that changes in the law have meant that children with disabilities in Florida are being involuntarily committed to mental health facilities when it’s not always necessary.

In addition to Lu, the judges for the small media market awards were Patricia Callahan, senior reporter for ProPublica; Leon Dash, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who is a professor of journalism at the University of Illinois; and Sara Luterman, who covers disability policy and politics for publications that include The Nation, Vox and The Washington Post.

The Katherine Schneider Journalism Award for Excellence in Reporting on Disability 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.

This announcement originally appeared on the Cronkite school website.

Creators of Brink Election Guide Want the Disability Community to be a Prominent Voting Bloc

By Catie Cheshire

When Dylan Bulkeley worked on Hilary Cilnton’s presidential campaign in 2016, he noticed many voter-mobilization organizations failed to use accessible technology, such as screen readers and video captions, so he decided to create the Brink Election Guide.

The guide is a voting app designed with accessibility at the forefront. The creators’ goal is to elevate people with disabilities to one of the strongest voting blocs in the nation. Currently, people with disabilities vote at a lower rate than the general population, in part due to accessibility issues.

“At first our goal was just to close that gap but, then, we’d love the disability community to be voting at the highest rate of any group in the country,” Bulkeley said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 61 million adults in America, or about 26 percent of the population, live with disabilities.

Bulkeley said the disability rights movement is on the brink of gaining traction at the national level. More candidates for public office are addressing disability issues in policy proposals and hiring staffers who live with disabilities. That’s why the app was named the Brink Election Guide.

“We felt like this app, Brink, was going to help push us over the brink and really make disability rights mainstream and something that every politician has to acknowledge and address and make sure to include in their campaigns and policies,” Bulkeley said.

Mick Rosenthal, outreach and strategy director for the Brink Election Guide, said the app is important because people with disabilities are “often left out or they are underrepresented and undercounted when it comes to election time.” Additionally, the app has features that actively help combat the barriers people with disabilities face when voting.

The Pew Charitable Trusts identifies several such barriers, including inaccessible polling locations, strict voter ID laws and untrained poll workers. The election guide is designed to help people with disabilities navigate those obstacles by identifying accessibility levels at polling locations and providing a range of other voter information. 

Bulkeley said some polling places don’t even activate their accessible voting machine, which people who are visually impaired rely on to vote.The guide’s help center provides phone numbers for the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Disability Rights Network and recommends seeking help when that happens.

The help center was expanded this year after the team, which includes a number of people who live with disabilities, sought feedback from disability rights groups and others.

For example, after hearing from people on the autism spectrum, the app was changed to a checklist format with a linear path from registering to vote to voting. Information on mail-in balloting and descriptions of accommodations that may be provided at polling places also were added.

In addition, a ballot preview feature allows voters to see exactly what is on their ballot, access information about candidates and issues, and then “favorite” what they want to select on election day so they’re ready when they mark their ballots or go to the polls.

The guide is nonpartisan, with all candidate information sourced from BallotReady.

“I think with the current issue of the pandemic, planning is one of the best things you can do,” Rosenthal said.

The app is offline capable, so even if people don’t have WiFi or cell phone service, they can access all the features, including their pre-prepared ballot, Bulkeley said. That allows notifications to be sent about local elections or midterm elections, when participation rates are lower than presidential elections.

“That’s the way we’re going to see the most change around advancing disability rights is having the disability community become the most reliable, consistent voting bloc,” Bulkeley said. 

Rosenthal said the goal is to help not just those who live with disabilities but anyone who needs help voting.

“Voting is necessary in a democracy, and the right to vote is for everyone — whether they are disabled or not,” he said.

The Brink Election Guide is available on the Apple Store, and on the Google Play Store. Check the Brink Election Guide website for updates.

How COVID-19 exposes a disability reporting gap

The disability community is disproportionately affected by issues like police violence and climate change. But media rarely includes disabled voices. This new Poynter report discusses what it would look like to move beyond including disabled voices merely as novelties.

Read the full story here.

Academy Awards Make Push For Increased Disability Representation

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced new requirements aimed at increasing the amount of diversity in Best Picture nominees. Starting in 2024, movies will have to meet two of four requirements that account for disability and diversity representation to be considered for Best Picture.

Read the full story here.