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Announcing the winners of the 2018 Ruderman Awards for Excellence in Reporting on Disability

A major investigation by NPR into the hidden epidemic of sexual violence against people with intellectual disabilities won the top honor in the Ruderman Foundation Awards for Excellence in Reporting on Disability.

Established by the Ruderman Family Foundation, the competition is the only journalism contest devoted exclusively to recognizing excellence in the coverage of people with disabilities and disability issues. The program is administered by the National Center on Disability and Journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

In addition to NPR, the contest, which includes the Katherine Schneider Medal, recognized journalists from eight organizations, including The Dallas Morning News, ProPublica Illinois, WNYC, Kaiser Health News, KING-TV, Better Government Association/WBEZ and New Mobility.

In “Abuse and Betrayed,” NPR’s special investigations unit – Joseph Shapiro, Robert Little and Meg Anderson – spent a year reporting on sexual assaults against people with intellectual disabilities. The reporters found people with intellectual disabilities are seven times more likely to be sexually assaulted than people without disabilities, according to previously undisclosed government numbers. The series took first place and a $10,000 prize in the Ruderman Foundation Awards.

“Among a collection of many excellent contenders, this entry stood out head and shoulders,” judges said in their comments. “NPR devoted thorough, sensitive reporting on a long overlooked issue and people who often are unable to say #MeToo for themselves.”

The NCDJ awarded second place and a $2,500 prize to The Dallas Morning News for “Pain and Profit,” third place and a $1,000 prize to ProPublica Illinois for “Stuck Kids” and an honorable mention and a $500 prize to WNYC for “Aftereffect.”

As part of the Ruderman Foundation Awards for Excellence in Reporting on Disability, the NCDJ awarded the Katherine Schneider Medal, recognizing local and regional news organizations in their efforts to report on people with disabilities and disability issues.

Kaiser Health News took the first place Katherine Schneider Medal and a $5,000 award for Senior Correspondent Christina Jewett’s investigation “Nowhere to Go: Young People With Severe Autism Languish in Hospitals.” The report revealed how teenagers and young adults with autism are spending weeks or even months in emergency rooms and acute-care hospitals, sometimes sedated, restrained or confined to mesh-tented beds. Judges called the investigation, “comprehensive, angering and heartbreaking.”

“The atrocities exposed by Christina Jewett in ‘Nowhere to Go’ are horrifying, inhumane and outright nauseating,” the judges said. “Reporting such as this should prompt policymakers at all levels of government to address this situation urgently. It is necessary to build supports for in-home care as well as humane external respite and resources.”

In the Schneider Medal contest, the NCDJ awarded second place and a $1,500 prize to KING-TV in Seattle for “Back of the Class: Lack of Inclusion,” third place and a $500 prize to the Better Government Association/WBEZ for “Trapped” and an honorable mention and a $250 prize to New Mobility for “Flying the Unfriendly Skies.”

The Ruderman Family Awards will be presented in a fall ceremony in Washington, D.C., featuring a keynote address on disability journalism as well as a workshop for journalists on how to improve disability coverage.

“Twenty percent of our population has a disability, and people with disabilities comprise the largest minority in our nation and in the world,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “Unfortunately, the media often ignores the disability narrative or infuses it with pity and condescending language. This award recognizes excellence in disability reporting, in order to ignite accurate and essential public conversations about disability, inclusion, civil rights, and social justice.”

In “Pain and Profit,” the second-place Ruderman Award winner, Dallas Morning News reporters J. David McSwane and Andrew Chavez exposed the systemic denials of care and other abuses by companies paid to administer Medicaid, the government insurance program for poor and disabled people. Judges said, “Painstaking, careful reporting drove this story to the top of the list. The reporting combined compellingly, sensitively told personal stories with the policy issues at hand.”

The third-place Ruderman Award winning story, “Stuck Kids,” uncovered how hundreds of Illinois children languish in psychiatric hospitals after they are cleared for release. The investigation by ProPublica Illinois’ Duaa Eldeib, Sandhya Kambhampati and Vignesh Ramachandran, found that between 2015 and 2017, 21 percent of the total time Department of Children and Family Services youths spent in psychiatric hospitals was not medically necessary.

The honorable mention winner, “Aftereffect” by WNYC’s Audrey Quinn, Aneri Pattani and Phoebe Wang, tells the story of a 2016 police shooting that upended the life of an autistic man and the hidden world of psych wards, physical abuse and chemical restraints.

The judges for the Ruderman Award contest were Ryan Gabrielson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for ProPublica, Leon Dash a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who is now a professor of journalism at the University of Illinois, Sara Just, executive producer of PBS NewsHour, and Jennifer Longdon, a disability advocate and author.

In “Back of the Class: Lack of Inclusion,” the second-place Schneider Medal winner, KING-TV investigative reporter Susannah Frame uncovered Washington’s poor track record of helping students with disabilities.

In “Trapped,” the third-place Schneider Medal winner, Better Government Association investigator Alejandra Cancino produced an in-depth series explaining how neglected elevators put Chicago’s public housing residents at risk.

In the honorable mention story, “Flying the Unfriendly Skies,”New Mobility reporter Kenny Salvini shares his personal experiences with airlines and how they treat people with disabilities.

The judges for the Schneider Medal contest were Andy Becker, news director for NPR member station KUER; Kerry Gibson, president of EcoCentury Technologies; Jennifer LaFleur, data editor for American University Investigative Reporting Workshop; and Amy Silverman, a Phoenix-based writer, editor and teacher.

The Katherine Schneider Medal continues the work of Katherine Schneider who launched the first NCDJ awards program in 2013. Schneider, a retired clinical psychologist who has been blind since birth and who also supports the national Schneider Family Book Awards.

About the Ruderman Family Foundation

The Ruderman Family Foundation is an internationally recognized organization, which advocates for the full inclusion of people with disabilities in our society. The Foundation supports effective programs, innovative partnerships and a dynamic approach to philanthropy in advocating for and advancing the inclusion of people with disabilities throughout the United States and the world.

The Ruderman Family Foundation believes that inclusion and understanding of all people is essential to a fair and flourishing community and imposes these values within its leadership and funding.

Amy Silverman on the Challenges of Updating Our Disability Language Style Guide

Journalist and NCDJ board member Amy Silverman discusses the complexities of disability terminology and opens up about her experience updating our Disability Language Style Guide, a task she calls “one of the toughest assignments of my career.”

Read Amy Silverman’s blog post “Beyond the R-Word.”

Click here to download the 2018 NCDJ Disability Language Style Guide as a PDF.

disability language

“Accessibility Is Not A Partisan Issue”

In an article for the Arizona Capitol Times, Katie Campbell details changes that are underway to make the Arizona State Capitol building more accessible for not just one new elected official, but all Arizonans. Jennifer Longdon, a presumptive state representative from Legislative District 24, uses a wheelchair and has drawn lawmakers’ attention to areas of the Capitol that are not easily accessible for people who use wheelchairs.

According to Longdon, Campbell writes, “this is just the first step toward making the Capitol more inclusive to everyone, both physically and in the policies that lawmakers craft.” Read the Arizona Capitol Times story here.

Jennifer Longdon Accessibility
Jennifer Longdon, a presumptive state representative from Legislative District 24, poses before a set of stairs to the speaker’s desk. “It’s more than our numbers that keep me from being speaker,” she said. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

PublicSource Essay on Lou Gehrig’s Disease and Laughter

In a first-person essay for PublicSource, Sarah Wood writes about a moment of levity she shared with her husband Charlie, who died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in October 1997. Read Sarah Wood’s story here.

ALS and Laughter PublicSource
Sarah Wood holds a framed photo of her and her late husband, Charlie, at her home located in Export, Pa. The couple bought the house in 1988 and raised their daughter there. (Photo by Kat Procyk/PublicSource)


Class-Action Lawsuit Claims Stanford University Forces Suicidal Students to Leave School

According to an article published in the New York Times on August 28, the lawsuit accuses Stanford of “discriminating against students with mental health issues by coercing them into taking leaves of absences.” The lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal cases challenging mental health leave policies at schools like Princeton, George Washington University, Quinnipiac, and Hunter College. Read the New York Times story by Anemona Hartocollis here.

College Mental Health
By Colby Mariam – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

More Americans Have Disabilities, Survey Finds

One in four Americans is disabled, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey released Thursday “At some point in their lives, most people will either have a disability or know someone who has a one,” Coleen Boyle, director of CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said in a written statement. Read Binghui Huang’s story here.

A Japanese man in a wheelchair in the Asakusa area of Tokyo, Japan. ** OUTS - ELSENT, FPG, CM - OUTS * NM, PH, VA if sourced by CT, LA or MoD ** (Rich Legg / Getty Images)
A Japanese man in a wheelchair in the Asakusa area of Tokyo, Japan. ** OUTS – ELSENT, FPG, CM – OUTS * NM, PH, VA if sourced by CT, LA or MoD ** (Rich Legg / Getty Images)

Doctors With Disabilities Push For Culture Change In Medicine

Lisa Iezzoni graduated from medical school but didn’t end up becoming a practicing doctor. This was before the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990, and she says she just didn’t have the support. Read her story in Doctors With Disabilities Push For Culture Change In Medicine, produced in collaboration with WHYY’s The Pulse, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

Lisa Iezzoni is professor of medicine at Harvard. She has multiple sclerosis and researches disparities in health care for people with disabilities.
Lisa Iezzoni is professor of medicine at Harvard. She has multiple sclerosis and researches disparities in health care for people with disabilities. Elana Gordon/WHYY

Op-ed piece addresses New York Post cover story

A New York Post cover story advances the harmful notion that if someone can walk, they must not have a disability writes Peter Catapano in his op-ed piece “A Front-Page Insult to People With Disabilities”.
Mr. Catapano is the editor of the opinion series Disability at the New York Times.

Image of New York Post cover story "Walk of Shame."
Image of New York Post cover story “Walk of Shame”, by Jeenah Moon for The New York Times”