© 1996 Disability Awareness in Action, All rights reserved
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About Disability Awareness in Action
This resource kit was produced through the generosity of the Platinum Trust and Charity Projects.
Permission for reprint on this website granted by DAA
1. The Media
One of the main aims of the disability movement is to change the structures of society and the attitudes of its members towards disabled people. But if people are to support your cause, they need to know you exist. The quickest and most effective way to make people aware of disability issues is to use the media.
Changing attitudes is difficult. But when disability issues are mentioned in newspapers and magazines, or on radio and television, they are going straight into people's homes; into their jives. Once there, even new and strange ideas start to sound more familiar and acceptable.
The media - newspapers, radio, television and advertising - have an enormous and increasing influence on they way almost every person on the planet views the world, their own and others' place in it. What we see, read and listen to mixes with our own direct experience to shape the way we think and feel about things. If, as disabled people, we wish to make changes in the way the non-disabled world thinks about us, we must make use of the mighty power of the media.
The media are professional gatherers and dispensers of news and feature stories. It is their job to inform, educate and entertain. They have demanding and constant deadlines to meet and welcome help from people willing to give them ideas; to do some of the research to make developing a story in a short time a little easier. If what you offer is well-prepared and suits the requirements of an editor or producer, it is far more likely to be used.
People who work in the media are not as glamorous, powerful, intimidating or inaccessible as they sometimes seem. They are people like you, with a job to do. Although, they have chosen to work in a profession that has enormous power over the hearts and minds of viewers and listeners, you'll find most of them will be aware of the responsibility that goes with that power.
Get to know who's who in the media. Study the bylines of newspapers. Listen to radio and TV broadcasts and note down the names of shows. Often the name of the producer, editor or researcher will be given after the programme, so you can address press releases and inquiries to that person.
Find out the lead times of newspapers, magazines and relevant radio and television shows. The lead time for a feature or news story is the amount of time that information needs to be received in advance for it to stand a good chance of being used. Ring up and find out what these lead times are.
Listen to your local radio, watch TV and read your local press with the aim of identifying which programmes or papers to approach.
Whenever you work with journalists, encourage them to focus on social rather than individual problems and solutions. Make the themes the obstacles and discrimination which disabled people face in institutions, in the environment, in people's attitudes, rather than the individual's impairment.
Quite simply, many of the day to day problems disabled people face are caused by the fact that society is organised to meet the needs of non-disabled people. Point out that disabled people are unnecessarily segregated, not because of their impairments, but because of badly designed buildings, inaccessible public transport, and discriminatory attitudes and practices in education and employment. Then provide a local example - an inaccessible school or work place. This will make the issue more easily understandable to local people.
You might disagree with the way disabled people are portrayed in the media, or how a particular story is reported. Editors and producers are interested in what their audiences think. Let them know. A large number of individual complaints, clearly and politely made, can be the most effective.
If an article or programme is offensive to disabled people, get individual members to write and say so Bigger radio and television stations will have a complaints department. For newspapers and magazines, address complaints to the editor. Your letter may well be printed on the Letters Page - one of the most widely-read sections of any publication. This is another good way of getting your message across.
You can write to papers and broadcast stations at other times too, with suggestions for features and news items. Editors and producers are often short of local news stories. If you need to be persuasive, use statistics they will appreciate. Remind them that disabled viewers, listeners and readers make up at least ten per cent of their audience. Let them know that there's a market waiting to be supplied.
The images and language used to portray disabled people are vitally important in the battle to change perceptions of us as passive and bitter creatures, leading useless lives. We all know the abusive terms which have been and are still used to describe disabled people. Our own language and images must emphasise the value of disabled people's lives; our dignity and strength; the contributions we make and can make to society. They words and pictures we choose really can help to change the world.
All your communications with the media, members of your organisation and the public should show the diversity of disabled people. We are of all ages, all ethnic origins and religions; both men and women. If you use visual representations, make sure they express this, and that all types of impairment are represented.
You could use these guidelines as a campaign on representations of disabled people in the media. Send copies to newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, suggesting a meeting to discuss the issues raised.
Disabled people, more often than not, are portrayed either as "super" disabled people or as the passive recipients of care and charity.
There is nothing wrong with recognising outstanding achievement by disabled individuals, but it has a negative effect if they are only seen in this way. Similarly, the repeated image of disabled people as victims of accident, tragedy, illness or injustice reinforces the stereotype of the helplessness and inferiority of disabled people.
Social and Individual Models
Disability is not simply a medical condition or personal problem. Rather, it arises out of the interaction between an individual with an impairment and an inaccessible physical environment and negative, stereotyping attitudes. So getting rid of the barriers to integration depends not on the individual but on social change.
Images of disabled people must reflect this by placing the emphasis on the individual as an integrated member of society, and not as someone set apart and segregated by their apparent "difference".
3. Alternative Media
To ensure equal opportunities, all communications and information should be accessible to all disabled people, including people with visual or hearing impairments and those with intellectual impairments.
This can be an expensive process, but there are ways of doing things cheaply - by borrowing equipment, using volunteers or getting sponsorship just for this.
Should also be available in:
Write things in simple language, without unnecessary long words.
When speaking to a person who has a hearing difficulty:
Every day, hundreds of thousands of words are printed in local, regional and national newspapers and magazines. There is space in these publications for mention of your organisation, for discussion of disability issues, for the views of ordinary disabled people. Make sure that you make the most of the press.
If you want a story to appear in a newspaper or magazine, you can contact the editor, who has overall responsibility for the content of the whole publication, or section editors - finance, health, family, women's issues, lifestyle - who have detailed responsibility for the content of various sections within the publication.
If he or she is interested, the editor will probably assign a reporter to speak to you and to write the story. This reporter might be a staff-writer (a permanent member of staff) or a freelance writer (a journalist who works for several publications and is paid per story).
In the case of a highly topical story, which you think should go into the next edition of the paper or magazine, you should telephone the news desk and speak to the news editor or one of the reporters.
Perhaps you would like to contribute a small piece yourself? For a news story, remember that press releases are sometimes used almost exactly as they are written, if they are written well. Study the content and style of the short news items in your local papers and try to imitate it.
If you want to write a feature, try to discuss it with someone first and to get an indication of whether or not the editor might be interested in the final story. He or she may also have helpful suggestions on how to write the article. Don't expect a firm commission. This is almost always reserved for full-time journalists whose work is well-known to the editor. He or she will probably want to see the feature before letting you know whether it will be used. Talk to the editor's secretary or assistant to find out what approach the editor prefers.
Be aware of deadlines, especially if you are dealing with a daily paper. The best times to telephone are in the morning, at around 10 am, or in the early afternoon, at around 2.30. Many daily newspapers go to press at around 4 pm, so this is a bad time to telephone. Normally, however, you will speak first to a secretary or receptionist when you phone. Though he or she may be busy themselves, they should be able to tell you a more convenient time to ring and exactly who to speak to.
5. Radio - The Magical Medium
Millions of people around the world have access to a radio. You don't have to know how to read. You can live miles from a town or city. And yet, as you listen, you share something very special with thousands of other people.
Radio creates an enormous intimacy between speaker and listeners. Many people have a radio in their homes to keep them company; a friendly, calming voice to link them to the outside world.
Radio is an enjoyable, relaxing, almost magical medium. It is also a potent tool for development. In particular, local radio can popularise and further understanding of issues directly related to communities. If you have an important message to convey, radio, in many ways, is the ideal medium.
The World Association of Community Broadcasters (AMARC) is an international non-governmental organisation serving the community radio movement. Community radio responds quickly and spontaneously to community concerns because it belongs to and is part of the community. This fact makes it a particularly good agent for cultural development, democratisation and social change.
For more information on community radio, contact: AMARC, CP2SO succursale De Lormier, Montreal, Quebec, H2H 2N6, Canada, Tel: 514 982 0351.
6. Television - More people learn about the world by watching television than by reading papers.
You can contact television people by press release, letter or telephone. Ask for the news desk if you have a topical news story. If you want to approach a particular programme, perhaps to recommend a feature idea or to ask whether someone from your organisation can be invited onto a chat show, find out the name of the producer. Write to them first and then follow this up with a telephone call.
Remember, television news people would rather cover a fire, flood or storm than a press conference: they want stories that make good pictures and exciting news.
When you're planning an event and want to invite the television cameras, make it as interesting and exciting to look at as possible. Choose an interesting location. If you can get well-known people to attend, you increase your chance of getting TV coverage. Your press release to television companies should emphasise what is to be seen at your event - famous people, displays, slogans.
Why not contact mainstream" programmes - game shows, chat shows, etc. - to suggest that disabled people take part in programmes that have nothing to do with disability? You may encounter awkwardness from production staff at first - these programmes are not the most innovative or progressive - but it's worth persevering and reminding them that disabled people are viewers too.
In the long-term, DAA would like disability organisations to have consultative status with television channels; to help form policy on equal opportunities for disabled people in programming, imagery and employment.
Why not send a copy of the imagery guidelines to the director general or most senior person at the company and suggest a meeting to discuss these issues?
For a feature-length programme, as opposed to a news item, television, more than any other medium, requires long-term planning. It's important to remember this when you are thinking about media coverage of events. The longer you can give production staff, the more likely they are to be able to produce something.
Below is a summary of the commissioning schedule for programmes in the Education Department of the BBC. Your broadcasting service may be different but the timescale will be similar. Check with them for full details.
7. Free Advertising!
Listings and Public Service Announcements
Local papers and community radio stations often offer space or air time to local organisations. The intention is usually to inform the public of a community event or a current campaign. These slots come in the form of calendar listings or public service announcements (PSAs). Don't let this free advertising go to waste!
Most newspapers and magazines carry a calendar of listings of coming events. They will have titles like: "Community Calendar", "What's On", "Around Town". Radio stations provide air time for PSAs, and certain local programmes on some TV stations include announcements of forthcoming community events.
The event should be open to the public and is usually free (unless it is staged to raise funds). You might want to use listings or a PSA to publicise a "Speak Up", a public meeting, conference, workshop, seminar, or the signing of the Reaffirmation of the World Programme of Action.
Listings and PSAs contain only basic information.
Keep the writing style straightforward, free from adjectives and not longer than about two paragraphs. Use informal spoken language and short sentences.
For radio, the slots will probably be between 10 seconds and a minute long. Read through what you write in a slow voice to time how long the announcer will need. If you stumble over a phrase, rewrite it.
For broadcast, type triple-spaced in block capital letters; for print, type double-spaced in upper and lower case letters. You will save editors the work of converting from block capitals.
If you give a contact, make sure they will be there during office hours, and that you have enough people to cope with feedback.
Lead times for listings and PSAs are quite long. Monthly magazines might need up to six weeks; Sunday papers might need a week and a half; daily newspapers often need at least three days of lead time.