Disability Narratives & The Media

As a journalist, and as a person with a disability, this subject is of particular interest to me. Having been a part of the industry since 2015, I can tell you two things from experience.

Stories that involve disability, in any of its many contexts, are notoriously well received by most editors. At least that’s been my experience, I haven’t had a single editor throw a story back in my face and say “nobody cares”.

Quite the opposite in fact. I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve had a story about disability rejected.

The second thing is that context matters, background research matters, and an understanding of the long-held frustrations within the disability community is a must. That takes time, something that the news business typically does not have, but in doing so, you’ll quickly learn that language matters when stories do get published.

A phrase such as “suffers from” is a great example. It might be easy language, but it’s also inherently assumptious and places the entire life of the disabled person under an assumed cloud of suffering.

The reality is that most disabled people don’t suffer from their disability. Dealing with the toxic disability support system? Now that might be something we suffer from, but it isn’t the be all of our daily lives, because it implies the majority of us don’t have one.

As a journalist, former public speaker, current radio host, boyfriend, son, nephew, et cetera – I can assure you there is much more to life than the wheelchair in which I sit.

It’s imperative that news stories published by us in the mainstream media about disability are respectful and accurate. It’s also worth noting that journalists, and this is a mistake I’ve made in the past, aren’t always great at thinking about how a person with a disability may wish to be described.

I wrote one particular story last year, calling someone featured in my story a “disability advocate”. In my mind I thought it was ok, then I saw a tweet from the Chief Exec of a major disability organization that inferred my very article framed that particular person in what she called an “ablest narrative”.

It then dawned upon me, if ableism is to be present in how we the media report on disability, then we should probably have a look at addressing it. Simply relying on the ideology that reporting on a news story involving people with disabilities brings to light the issues impacting that community, and therefore brings about some change, is a flawed approach to have in my view.

If not, there will be a growing distrust between the disability community and the media. In our reporting of the news, and it’s also true that this goes well beyond just stories impacting people with disabilities, we need to slow down a bit and think about the wider contexts that are put in place because of the language being used.

None of that was done in some of the media coverage this week surrounding basketballer Thomas Abercrombie and his children, who also happen to be on the Autism spectrum.

Let’s hope more care is taken next time.

I Can’t Quit Social Media, But I Can Do It Differently

Like a lot of you, the thought of logging out of all my social media accounts and “disconnecting” has flashed through my mind a lot as of late.

Also, like a lot of you I’m sure, I was left somewhat shocked by what I learned when watching “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix recently.

Even if you aren’t on the major social media platforms, or perhaps you are and you don’t feel being on them is a problem worth considering, I’d highly recommend you take a look at the documentary.

“The Social Dilemma” doesn’t necessarily expose these tech giants for their happy willingness to do all they can to keep our eyes glued on the screen, but it confirms what some of us probably already knew if we really stopped to think about it in the first place.  

I certainly don’t like to think of myself as some sort of lab rat being experimented on, but in reality, it’s hard to argue that these social media platforms all largely started out as experiments and took off to heights that even their own developers didn’t imagine.

Sure, any business is an experiment at its beginning, but few have the potential to contribute to the negative impact on our mental health that Facebook, Twitter, and yes, even Instagram can have on our population.

Anyhow, I didn’t start this blog to write a review of “The Social Dilemma” or try to convince you that social media is bad, I want to talk about why I’m going to make a consolidated effort to lessen my time on the socials and what that could look like.

I Can’t Quite Social Media, But I Can Do It Differently

It seems somewhat disingenuous to make bold claims of lessening my time on social media, whilst at the same time writing this blog and sharing it on social media for you all to read. How else would I share it? Send a link out via an email? Maybe text it to my closest friends and family?

No, quite honestly, the only place to share a blog is on your respective social media timelines and I can guarantee that it’s on social media that you came across this in the first place.

This blog is probably one of a few things you’ll read online today, so no, the answer for me (a freelance journalist and experienced blogger) is not simply disconnecting and walking away because I’d effectively be putting a bullet to my career.

Social media is here to stay, it’s likely only going to increase I’d imagine, and it’s definitely going to be a requirement for those of us who work in the information/news/distribution spaces.

So, I’ll be sharing the content, monitoring feedback to it, and doing by best to respond to intelligent comments, but I’ll also be finding a way to utilize mass sharing using services such as Buffer or Hootsuite to do the distribution part.

But why? Why, for me personally, is limiting time on these services scrolling up and down such a bad thing? Surely, as a journalist at the very least, I need to be connected and up to date at all times?

I hear and take your point, and this is the very reason why this “experiment” to reduce time on the socials isn’t exactly knew. I’ve tried before and failed.

For me, and I wonder for a lot of you who may either be in similar situations or are considering taking on the challenge of less time on social media, it’s not a matter of disconnecting altogether but radically changing up your time on Facebook, Twitter, and especially, Instagram.

Maybe it’s just me, and let be completely honest for a moment, as someone with diagnosed depression and anxiety I’ve noticed that Instagram is a major trigger for a meltdown because it visually shows me what is often the “best” of what others are doing or the “best” of what they have going on.

So, I started this “experiment” by logging out of Instagram and I’ve promised myself I’ll only check in once every other day. That feels like a good place to start as its Instagram which seems to trigger the most.

This morning, instead of checking Twitter and endlessly scrolling through my lists (in my case, curated lists with the latest in politics, rugby, gaming, and disability) while having breakfast, I decided to just use my screen time looking at the actual news apps to see what was breaking.

There is something odd about using Twitter, a platform that is becoming more and more clouded with mis fact and division, as the first place to get my news each day. Ok, granted, I’m fully prepared to admit that using Twitter will often take me to the same official news outlets anyway because I come across a story that I need to read (both out of curiosity but also because of my profession).

It’s just the other stuff that I could so without at this point in my life. I don’t need to hear about everyone’s reaction to the news, I don’t need to see why you agree or disagree with something that Jacinda Ardern said today or why NZ Rugby is a monster organization in desperate need of change.

What I do need is time to breathe, room to concentrate on my work which as a journalist, blogger and part time communications assistant, requires discipline that clouded, information overload with a side of some 1000+ live reactions flashing across my screen simply doesn’t provide.

I’ll start here. It isn’t about disconnecting, I won’t do that, I will check in a few times a day and continue to share my latest yarns, but I’m certainly not going to be scrolling up and down trying to find ideas for the next thing or using these platforms to latch onto others who can increase my professional cred.

Everyone, it seems at least, is an entrepreneur on social media these days, myself included in large part. Our thoughts have become the primary driver behind it all, and it’s what creates so much division, because how can we disagree and still respect one another when there are no parameters to what we can share?

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be on social media. I’m saying we all need to put more time, and more value, on something that is beyond that screen that almost never leaves our side.

When writing this blog, it’s a beautiful sunny day outside. I spent my time between pages by taking a stroll down the street and enjoying the fresh air. Nothing happened, my career didn’t suddenly end. It felt great, maybe because spring is here and I’m feeling different.