What Disabled Voices??

root - Posted on 03 December 2002

Illin and Chillin Columnist critiques the extreme lack of media coverage of disabled people of color and disability issues in general

by Leroy Moore/Illin and Chillin and DAMO

Why does the mainstream media have a laissez-faire approach when it comes to covering issues that touch my disabled community?

Back in 1999, I started writing for POOR Magazine/PoorNewsNetwork trying to find a media outlet that would listen to and publish my stories on the struggles, talents, and rights of disabled people of color. At that time there was very little in any form of media about disabled people of color, and it is still so.

Throughout the years I’ve written about many issues affecting my disabled brothers and sisters of color; from movie critiques, racism in the disability movement, the high unemployment rates among disabled people of color, senseless crimes and police brutality, shooting of people with disabilities, mental illness, as well as the recent government policies that are making disabled and elderly people homeless.

As a disabled activist, Executive Director of Disability Advocates of Minorities Organization, and writer, I have realized even in the year 2002 the mainstream media hasn’t changed their laissez-faire approach of issues facing disabled people in general, especially disabled people of color. Do they still have a fuzzy relationship with the Jerry Lewis telethon’s view of disability, that our only problem is that we, all, are still looking for a cure and we are all taken care of by father Jerry, and Uncle Sam’s benefits and programs? How can the largest minority group in the world get little or no media coverage?

Since the birth of Disability Advocates of Minorities Organization, DAMO, we have been very vocal on harsh realities that surround us and have also been a stage for our beautiful talents, voices, and history in the local Bay Area. However, through the five years of DAMO, the mainstream media hasn’t paid us no mind. In the first three years of DAMO we’ve held poetry events, had a public access talk show, put on rallies, press conferences on both sides of the Bay, have done some incredible community and system advocacy, and publicly spoke about hush-hush issues that people are not talking about. For example, issues such as the wrongful incarceration of Black disabled people, and how city bureaucrats are making disabled elderly homeless, but still mainstream media hasn’t made our issues a priority.

Last year the Black community protested the San Francisco Chronicle for a lack of coverage. However, the only time I see the Chronicle do anything which touch the disabled community is during the Americans with Disabilities Act Birthday. Or there are feel-good articles attached to the horrible way mainstream media (i.e., the San Francisco Chronicle) paints the picture of homeless people with disabilities. Just like the Black non-disabled community claimed lack of coverage, the disabled people of color community is claiming when they do a disability piece, nine times out of ten there is a lack of ethnic diversity in their coverage of our communities and issues. In February, Black History Month of this year, I was one of the awardees for KQED local hero. Did I get a call from the Chronicle? No! The only mainstream press in the Bay Area that contacted me was the Oakland Tribune and wrote a full spread article. I think the real reason why the Tribune wrote the article is because the reporter who contacted me and wrote the article also writes for a Black newspaper, the San Francisco Bayview, who was the first newspaper who published my articles dealing with disabled people of color. However this laissez-faire media approach goes beyond DAMO and I!

It seems if you put the word DISABLED in your press release, then you can forget about getting mainstream media coverage. A good example of my above comment was the May 23rd, 2002, press conference at the steps of Oakland courthouse. The purpose of this press conference was to spotlight the inhuman treatment by the Alameda County toward a poor Black family, the Sloans, of Oakland, California. We were also there to speak about how the County has separated this family by putting their disabled elderly mother in a nursing home and are now raising the rent of their own home; causing them to go to court with no representation to see if they can stay in their home and to have custody of their own mother. At the press conference the only media that showed was The Sun Reporter, despite the fact POOR Magazine wrote a press release to all mainstream media and called them repeatedly. After the press conference the Co-editor of POOR Magazine, who were acting as advocates for the Sloan Family, realized that on the press release was the term ‘disabled elder’ and thought back to all the events and conferences held by Disability Advocates of Minorities Organization in which POOR Magazine was the only media that showed up.

This kind of hands off approach is a common reality when it comes to getting media coverage on disabilities issues, art, culture, etc. Even disabled famous people of color struggle to get media coverage. In Teddy Pendegress’ book, Truly Blessed, he discussed how the media wrote that his career as a singer was over because of his fatal car accident that left him physically disabled. After his car accident, his face disappeared from the media cameras. Although he was in concert in Oakland earlier this year, the only source that covered his concert and mentioned his disability in a positive light was the San Francisco Bay View, a Black Bay Area newspaper. This, compared to the love affair the media has with Christopher Reeves and now Michael J. Fox, both White and disabled. It’s not only a Black and White thing either. Have you heard of Gaynell Colburn? If you rely on mainstream news you’ll never know who she is. Colburn is the hottest Latina percussionist on earth and she is physically disabled. Although she has played with Stevie Wonder, Herbi Hancock, and Grover Washington, it’s almost impossible to find her records anywhere. Plus she is nowhere to be found in the media despite her debut as an actress in the Hollywood movie, The Adjudication Hunter. So is it time for the disabled community to picket the Chronicle, ABC, CBS and NBC?

At the kick-off press conference during Martin Luther King’s Birthday to introduce the only campaign in the Bay Area to teach community organizing to disabled people of color, a veteran disabled Latino organizer looked at the small crowd and realized once again mainstream media was not there. He shouted, "If they don’t come to us, we will go to them. Mainstream media, you’re going to get your ass picketed!" This is not a threat, it’s reality! It is time to end the mainstream media’s Laissez—faire approach on disabled issues and our lives.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.

Executive Director of DAMO


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