Using media effectively to enhance the voices of disabled people discussed in Know Your Rights Webinar Series
Of late the media, mainstream and otherwise, has been slammed for irresponsible, even dangerous reporting. What gets forgotten is how effective the media is as a tool to amplify issues and voices that matter. This came in for attention in the 7th session of the Know Your Rights Webinar Series organised by the Javed Abidi Foundation, Disability Rights India Foundation and Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. NewzHook was a media partner of this series.
Kicking off the discussion on Media and Social Media Advocacy in the sixth Know Your Rights Webinar Series, Ayesha Samah, a student and volunteer with the Javed Abidi Foundation (JAF) talked about the larger impact the Right To Information (RTI) campaign has been able to create thanks to the advocacy on mainstream and social media.
“It has reached a stage like so many other movements because it has an online presence”, said Ayesha, adding that media plays an important role in advocating in the world we live in now.
A point that has resonance in the immediate context as well. Take the recent protests across India over the Citizenship Amendment Act or the Black Lives Matter protests across the United States. In both instances, the media has played a crucial role, responsible and otherwise, in shaping views.
The sixth Know Your Rights Webinar looked at how the media can be used to advocate for disability rights issues. The speakers were motivational speaker Dr Malvika Iyer and Shai Venkatraman, Editor, NewzHook, India’s first accessible news site for people with disabilities.
The apathy shown towards disability by mainstream media should be seen in a larger context, said Shai. “This is also evident when it comes to gender rights or caste-based issues. Mainstream media gives such issues very little space unless there’s something really shocking or outrageous”.
Media as a disability rights advocacy tool
How then does one tell these stories on mainstream media sites? One way to attract greater interest and engagement is to add a human element.
Malvika recounted her experience coping with a sudden disability. A teenager when she lost her hands, Malvika struggled initially. “For two years I faced a lot of discrimination and was mortified even though my family was accepting and supportive”. Acceptance of self, she said was critical.
I personally had not accepted my new identity after my accident or embraced my own disability. I was afraid of being judged or labelled. For 10 years I constantly would wear my prosthetic hands, cover them and pretend that everything was fine. Then on the 10th anniversary of my accident, I wrote a post on Facebook sharing my story. The response was unbelievable and that helped me understand that there is nothing wrong in being disabled. – Dr Malvika Iyer, Motivational Speaker
Avoiding the ‘pity’ trap in telling stories about PwD
Changing larger attitudes towards disability and disabled people is important and hence it is important to avoid falling into the trap of giving a bechaara spin to all stories. Something the media tends to do.
“I have personally never felt like crying on camera but often they (media) would emphasise on the fact that I had lost two hands, and that I must have someone to blame or tears to shed”, said Malvika.
To engage with a wider audience, make the issue about people, added Shai. “It always helps to begin with an example about someone. Why are you telling that story, who is the audience, these are the questions to think about. The first para must be a hook and an affected person is always an effective hook. There is always something about a story which moves you and that is where you should start your story”.
For Malvika, humour has been a critical part of breaking the ice. “Humour has helped me overcome my issues and connect. Learn to be open about your disability. Sharing an experience really helps to connect”.
Shameer Rishad, Convenor, JAF, emphasised upon the importance of connecting with rural audiences. “One of my mentors told me that people with disabilities should be trained to talk about their stores. It’s very important to work with the community at grassroots level”.
Watch in Sign Language
- Challenges faced in grassroots activism in disability advocacy is focus of 6th Know Your Rights Webinar Series
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