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Media Engagement Tips for Disability Advocates

August 18, 2015
Black woman dressed in black with sunglasses walks outside

Justice Shorter

By Justice Shorter

As a graduate student with a concentration in Policy Advocacy and a background in communication, I have spent much of my spare time exploring every exposed or hidden corner of advocacy communications. My work this summer with Women Enabled International encouraged me to further examine media representations of women and girls with disabilities. Unfortunately, women and girls with disabilities are rarely included in on-air programs especially those with topics/themes unrelated to disability issues. As a result of this disparity in diversity, there are countless disability inclusion guides and resources available for media makers to consider when designing and implementing programs or feature films. Yet we still remain largely absent, stereotyped or stigmatized on both big and small screens.

Inspired by this injustice, I decided to create a quick tips sheet for women and girls with disabilities to consider when engaging with media makers in an effort to strengthen disability advocacy, shatter stereotypes, dispel myths and become full participants in media opportunities. The tips are best used as an advocacy tool when tailored to meet the specific advocacy goals and objectives of the individuals applying them. This sheet is not meant to serve as an exhaustive account of all media relations considerations but rather as a living document that will grow over time with contributions from shared experiences and further compilations of best practices.

If you wish to share your disability advocacy communications ideas, experiences or suggestions please contact Justice Shorter at JusticeShorter@gmail.com .

Interview Preparation

  • Inform the interviewer and their team in advance of what accommodations you will need before, during and after the interview.
  • Advocate that your disability not be hidden or downplayed while on camera
  • Acknowledge beforehand whether or not you are comfortable discussing your disability on air. Often, interviewers will ask questions associated with your disability even when it has no recognizable relevance to the topic being discussed.
  • If you would like to openly discuss your disability strive to ensure that it does not become the central focus of the interview when the topic of discussion is not disability related. To assist with this, create a mental list of talking points and transitions that will allow you to easily flow from one topic to the next.
  • Highlight wider trends. People with disabilities are frequently portrayed as inspirational or superhuman in mainstream media. To combat these misconceptions and other stereotypes link your experiences to other examples of people with disabilities leading similar lives or making comparable contributions within you’re field/the topic being discussed. This technique signifies that people with disabilities who accomplish their goals or who succeed professionally are the new rule rather than just merely a rare exception to be idealized. This may require some research on your part but is well worth the effort if you can recognize and reinforce disability examples that disprove or disassemble negative media myths and misconceptions.

Time

If your disability affects the amount of time you may need to think about or respond to questions:

  • Alert the interviewers and their team in advance to ensure that they have reserved enough time in their schedules for you to fully and comfortably participate in the interview.
  • During prerecorded interviews it might be helpful to check in with the interviewer throughout the conversation to confirm he/she accurately comprehends your message/responses.
  • Check the position and quality of the mic by doing a quick sound check to hear how your voice will sound to the audience. This can help you decide to speak more softly, loudly, energetically, calmly, assertively etc.
  • Beware of the Filter: Often, interviewers will paraphrase your comments or automatically assume you think or feel a certain way. This happens far too frequently during stories featuring individuals with disabilities. Although the technique may be used with the intention of preserving time, summarizing a lengthy statement or clarifying complicated comments, it can also entirely miss or misrepresent your message. To avoid this, try speaking in clear, concise and complete sentences. Pause before speaking to mentally review your responses and tactfully redirect interviewers when they’re wrong about your stance or previous statements.

Location & Equipment

  • Inquire about the place or space where the interview is to be held. Ensure that the location is accessible.
  • If you will be reading new material or using special equipment during a program, check with the interviewer and their team to discuss potential modifications or alternative options if needed.
  • If possible, take an advance tour of the location where the interview is to be held or ask for time to familiarize yourself with new equipment/devices you may need to use.
  • Sometimes, individuals without disabilities won’t know what aspects of accessibility to check for so it may prove helpful to provide more specific accessibility details related to your particular disability.

Visuals

  • If you are blind or visually impaired:
  • Inquire about what type of visuals will be used to accompany the piece or program.
  • Offer suggestions for pictures or footage to be taken in areas where you have some familiarity
  • When being photographed in a group ask to be informed of who is in the frame as to not be caught off guard in a picture with individuals you don’t wish to be associated with.

Interpreters & Assistants

  • Inquire beforehand as to whether or not you’re interpreter or assistant is comfortable being on camera.
  • Advocate that the interviewer direct all questions toward you and not to the interpreter or assistant. The cameraperson should also be encouraged to focus on capturing images of your responses and interaction with the interviewer as opposed to those of the interpreter/assistant.

Access to Content

  • Inquire about content accessibility before and after the interview
  • Offer suggestions and resources on how the content can be made more accessible for people with disabilities. This may entail you connecting the program’s staff with individuals who are more adept to designing or adapting accessible technology.

Justice Shorter is one of the participants in the 2015 USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program, to be posted at this blog.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  Justice Shorter is completing her internship at Women Enabled International.  Learn more about the internship program at http://usicd.org/template/page.cfm?id=257.  Read Justice Shorter’s, and the biographies of other interns in the summer 2015 program, at http://www.usicd.org/index.cfm/news_usicd-mitsubishi-interns-biographies.  The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD or Women Enabled International.

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