Waking up to a disabled-friendly media in 2021

By Shruti Pushkarna

New Year is all about hope. We go to bed on December 31, hoping that there will be something miraculously different about January 1. There is almost a Cinderella feel to it. For a short period, most of us believe that we will wake up to a changed, better scenario. I’ve decided to indulge myself too, and make this last piece of the year, all about what I want to see in 2021.

But a little disclaimer before I pull out my euphoric list that promises to make inclusion somewhat of a reality starting New Year’s day. This piece is written in a lighter vein, any noticeable sarcasm is incidental. 

Accessible news telecast for all

All Indian language news channels launch a special broadcast service accessible to persons with different types of disabilities. People with hearing, speech or vision impairment as well as those with learning or intellectual disability won’t need to seek help from the able-bodied to catch the latest news.


New hiring policy to include Persons with Disabilities (PwDs)

All private media companies introduce a mandatory human resource policy to include PwDs in their workforce. A detailed list of jobs taking into account 21 types of disabilities mentioned in the RPWD Act 2016, has been created in consultation with domain experts. The move has been initiated to generate empathy and raise awareness about the daily challenges faced by the disabled.


A disability-sensitive stylesheet issued by the Broadcast Associations

Acknowledging the often inappropriate and politically incorrect language used by the media, the broadcasting bodies have decided to enforce a new stylesheet with accurate terminology and expression with regards to reporting on disability issues. This will ensure the omission of crude terms like lame, mentally retarded, wheelchair bound, dumb et cetera. 


Disabled representation a must on news debates

Just like the panellists from varied political leanings, caste or gender groups or specific domain expertise, primetime debates on issues of national relevance will include representatives from the disabled community. Discussions on rape law, healthcare, Covid vaccination programmes, politics and business of the day, will voice opinions of persons with disabilities, regarding them as equal citizens of the country.


Special programming on life despite disability

A dedicated series of shows to be produced regularly, helping society understand what it means to live a life with an impairment. The coverage will include challenges, accomplishments, available resources or the lack of it, private and governmental initiatives for better opportunities and so on. The programming will go beyond mere tokenism or unnecessarily heroic portrayal of pathetic situations. 


All news websites to become accessible

Ensure all content and the digital medium of publishing is in line with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. The W3C Accessibility recommendations are put together after consultation with people from the industry, disability organisations, government and research labs to make digital content accessible to people with auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech and visual disabilities. Most web content developers are unaware of these guidelines and therefore mainstream websites remain out of bounds. For instance, a lot of news websites have pop up ads which interfere with screen reading software used by visually impaired people. The less ignorant techies manage to circumvent such issues, making the content available to a wider audience. 


Post Covid-19 scenario

Journalists will periodically track the Covid-19 aftermath vis-à-vis disabled population. Whether it’s about organising special vaccination camps, tracking the side-effects of possible treatments, inclusive healthcare facilities, challenges of commuting in the absence of a caretaker, food and medicine supply chains for the most vulnerable, newscasts will include all such issues in their daily editorial agenda. 


Disability: new kid on the block

A new beat specifically dedicated to disability will ensure that coverage of issues pertaining to this domain make it to the telecast beyond the good news segment or the striking image of the day. This will eventually encourage journalism schools to include disability studies in the curriculum, promoting sensitivity towards the 2.68 crore population (severely underquoted official figures).


I know what you are thinking. Is all of this even attainable? Are we being led to a delusive perception of a world that treats everyone equally? Or if you are the practical sorts, then maybe you are wondering, what kind of resources will it take to shape this fantastical plan into reality?


It’s possible and it doesn’t take too much. The first step to inclusion is a simple acknowledgment of the ‘other’. Covid-19 has taught us ways of adjusting to a new normal. In the case of disability too, the notion of normal is a bit different, that’s all.


Technology, creativity and some initial financial investments can help us source solutions that can remove barriers. The only real blockade is our ‘exclusionary’ mindset, the tendency to box people out of our lives assuming it doesn’t impact our existence.


But the truth is we are just as vulnerable as the person next door. Thanks to the pandemic and other environmental disasters in the past year, we’ve lived through some horrors we had never imagined. So why not focus on the upside and the stuff we hadn’t put our minds to earlier. Can we start by making the disabled population an intrinsic part of the target group?


Borrowing Alfred Tennyson’s famous lines “Ring out the old, ring in the new…”, let’s ring in the new year with the promise of building a conducive environment for all.