New journalist’s manual is an educational look at appropriate language in the disability sector

Nothing about us without us – that’s the golden rule authors of the new Disability Reporting Handbook lived by when creating the manual for journalists and the reporting media.

The foreword in the manual, produced by Media Diversity Australia (MDA) says the media should reflect, connect with and include all people.

The handbook has been created to help journalists do just that, with a particular focus on disability in various communities.

It was produced by a team of media professionals with lived experience of disability, in collaboration with peak disabled people’s organisations and diversity advocates.

The manual has been designed to enable time-poor, task-rich media professionals to skip to key areas to get the practical knowledge they need to better report on and with people with disability.

The authors hoped this guide would lead to a more inclusive media, and with it, a more inclusive world – one which recognises and welcomes the true spectrum of human diversity.

MDA is a nationwide not-for-profit organisation working towards a news media that is reflective of all Australians.

It seeks to promote balanced representation in news and current media that reflects the community it serves. This includes cultural and linguistic diversity and disability.

Disability Discrimination Commissioner Dr Ben Gauntlett said the portrayal of people with disability in the media was critical to ensuring people with disability were included in society now and in the future.

“People with disabilities are diverse and the nature of disability is diverse too,” he said

“However, in a time poor society where there is variable knowledge about people with disability, it can be easy to overlook the importance of language, imagery and storytelling.

Journalists can change lives by asking questions that enable issues of concern to be brought to the foreground of public debate.

“They can also change lives by carefully reporting on issues in an inclusive manner. How a person is referred to in a story or dealt with in collating and researching a story matters.”

Disability is part of the human condition. The term ‘disability’ is multilayered and means different things to different people.

There are many ways language can be used to acknowledge it – “with disability”, “disabled”, “atypical” are some of the terms used.

The handbook uses the term “with disability” but MDA also acknowledges it is the person with disability’s right to choose the language that describes them.

The manual covers topics from explaining the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and the Disability Support Pension to outlining the Disability Discrimination Act and the various organisations available.

It gives the media data and how to use it appropriately and tips on using the correct language since one in five Australians are estimated to have a disability and therefore help make up a major part of our population.

The authors have released what they call the six golden rules for journalists:

  1. Include: Remember this mantra: ‘Nothing about us without us’. If you’re producing a story on disability, ensure you include the voice of a relevant person with disability.
  1. Ask: Personal preference is everything.It’s ok to say, “I’m not very familiar with autism. Can you please tell me how you like to be called?” Or, “What’s the best way to prepare the studio ahead of our interview?” Or, “Do you have any access needs that I can help with?”
  2. Avoid: Inspirational porn. Don’t portray a person with disability as being inspirational, courageous or brave just for doing ordinary things. Ask yourself, would this still be an inspirational story if the person wasn’t disabled? Check out Stella Young’s TED Talk: “I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much” to learn more about inspiration porn.

Also, avoid making assumptions or comparisons: Don’t assume someone can or can’t do something because of their disability. Don’t use language that suggests that one disability is better or worse than another.

  1. Prepare: Ask if there’s anything the person would like to know or do to prepare for the interview. Bear in mind though, that many people may not know what support or preparation they may need, so offer suggestions.
  2. Respect: Direct your questions and attention to the person with disability, not their translator, communication device or support person. Avoid patronising or condescending tones or language. Respect the interviewee’s personal space. The same goes for a person’s communication device or interacting with a person’s dog guide.
  3. Review: Ask for feedback at the end of the interview, “What worked well, what didn’t?” Share your experience and the feedback you received with your peers so they can learn from your experiences.

Various chapters in the manual share more specific tips on interviewing people with a disability.

Remember, words matter. A journalist’s craft is designed to use words to paint a picture and educate – ensure you chose the right words.

The MDA manual is a comprehensive look at the language used to paint this picture – not just for the media but for everyone.

While it’s the journalist’s job to inform readers of correct procedure and language, the public also can be informed by getting a hold of this informative publication and having a read to be informed and educated.

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