When was the last time you consumed news and this question crawled on your mind with: Is this platform/media house accessible to 16% (1.3 billion people) of the world population (as per World Health Organization)? If the answer is hmmmmm, a lazy no, then continue reading, you are at the right place.
From the world’s oldest democracy to the world’s largest democracy with the media setting the agenda, building narratives and creating change: What percentage follows the “we are an equal opportunity employer” principle on the ground?
The conservative estimates suggest that India has 25 million disabled people with 400 news channels operating in the country but the large chunk of this population is not seen as a user-base in Indian newsrooms.
Unfortunately, the websites and apps of the majority of the media houses are not disabled friendly. Advanced Assistive technologies like screen-reader, a software that helps the visually impaired to navigate through various issues on the screen, are not updated. Let alone advanced, the basic Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are not properly followed.
Let me simplify it. The caption of the picture used in an article says: A beautiful monument. And it has a picture of the Taj Mahal in it. If it doesn’t say out loud that it is Taj Mahal, how would the visually impaired news consumer know what picture has been used. The bottom line is that the picture should talk, both literally and figuratively. It should be a value addition. Alt text your images makes it a lot easier for the persons with disabilities to come back to your platform time and again.
Alt text is the little image descriptor you use to improve image accessibility on digital surfaces for people who don’t have the ability to see them. A bonus feature is that it helps search engine crawlers understand images, which improves SEO.
When disabled people are denied the right to access news, it defeats the very idea of inclusivity. Though India has the Right of Persons with Disabilities (RPwD) Act, 2016, which recommends any entity to make the offerings accessible to all, the 36-page draft looks great on the websites and gathers dust in office-files.
The technology is a great leveler and it has made the road to success smooth for persons with disabilities. But due to the lack of clear mandate and representation in the industry, Indian media has a problem that it doesn’t consider the 2% disabled population as its consumers.
To add insult to the injury, they follow a very problematic “charity model” representation. They highlight and focus on the sufferings if someone from the community makes strides in the career or does something out of the box. This “inspirational story” attitude is totally unacceptable and discouraging for the persons with disabilities.
Let me flesh it out a bit with a fresh example from Kashmir. Check out this problematic headline as a reference. What do you, as a journalist, want to prove by writing “despite being limbless/visually or hearing impaired?” What do you, as readers, infer from it? Please take note, as a non-disabled person, when you write “from impairment to inspiration”, you negate the disability and that is insensitive and not okay with the community. Therefore, “disability sensitive training” is important.
The BBC has set clear guidelines on how to report about disability. Let us understand how respectfully they address disabled. They have moved away from using terms like “wheelchair bound”. They don’t say “suffering from the condition”, they say “living with the condition.”
It is brilliant to highlight the achievements of persons with disabilities. We appreciate it. But remember when you call that 1% ‘inspirational’, you are creating a barrier, a vacuum, a void within the community. Remaining 99% who live with the disabilities feel inferior and that 1% is boxed. You, as an anchor, a reporter should know that everyone with a physical impairment cannot do super inspirational things and that is completely okay. Stop sensationalizing the ‘inspirational stories’. Normalize the narrative, celebrate disability without feeling pity.
The Indian media industry has to consider disabled people as end-users, and hire them for the roles they are good at. A disabled person may do some things little slowly but doesn’t qualify to be considered a liability or misfit in the fast evolved media industry. There is a stigma attached to types of disabilities in newsrooms. If there is assistive technology like talkback and screen-reader-like features in every mobile phone, why can’t we do the least by making our offices accessible? Invest in the latest technology to have our websites and apps accessible for persons with disabilities so that they also consume the news like every non-disabled fellow.
Some arguments I came across are that the accessibility features are exclusively meant for persons with disabilities. That is untrue. The fact is that it makes the platform better. The sales and profits increase, if the product is accessible. And the research also proves that it improves your SEO. When the accessibility is incorporated, it opens up new offerings.
These ‘non-issues’ will continue to be brushed aside as long as accessibility in the Indian newsrooms is not a priority and disabled staff not hired. This neglect from the industry pushes the aspiring journalists from the community to the wall. This blog is a small attempt to generate a healthy debate and suggesting the implementation of regular disability sensitive trainings.
Fun-fact: Facebook logo is designed blue. Ever wondered why? Because Mark Zuckerberg has color vision deficiency (CVD). If the logo of the world’s largest social networking site can be tailored for a lived experience of its creator, why can’t we change the stereotyped representation of disabled in the Indian media and coach/train the industry experts to not neglect the disabled?
- Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism
University of Oxford: https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/9-step-plan-curb-cutting-disability-access-indias-news-and-newsrooms
2. Splice Media, Singapore: https://www.splicemedia.com/access-diversity-inclusivity