Griffith University journalism students are at the forefront of a campaign to improve media representation of people with a disability.
Project Open Doors, which aims to develop positive media reporting around people with a disability, was launched by the Disability Discrimination Commissioner Alastair McEwin on Monday, July 10.
Project coordinator and journalism lecturer Faith Valencia says the goal of the project is to change the way people with a disability and their families, carers and support workers are represented in the media.
“The common media stereotypes of reporting of people with a disability can be to portray them as victims or villains. Often reporting is patronising and deficiency-based. People are cast as ‘others’ if they are even noticed at all,’’ she said.
As one in five Australians has a disability – be it physical, sensory, psycho-social or cognitive – Ms Valencia said there is a real need to challenge the perception of disability as ‘suffering’ and promote an understanding of people as individuals with a voice, not to mention hopes and ambitions, who are just living everyday lives.
“The media has an important responsibility to represent the reality of people’s lives, not some imagined reality.
“The students involved in Project Open Doors will work closely with people who have lived experience of disability, providing not only a voice, but an avenue to actively guide and develop positive media coverage.
“They will report and publish a variety of stories on the Project Open Doors website.”
Project Open Doors partners include the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission, Endeavour Foundation, Queenslanders with Disability Network, Sporting Wheelies and Disabled Association, SUFY, Deaf Services Queensland and WWILD.
From left front, Qld Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Kevin Cocks AM, Griffith University Deputy Vice Chancellor (Engagement) Professor Martin Betts, Professor Lesley Chenoweth, Pro Vice Chancellor and Head Logan Campus, Assistant Minister for Disability Services Jane Prentice MP, Griffith University journalist-in-residence Nance Haxton, Disability Discrimination Commissoner Alastair McEwin and journalism lecturer Faith Valencia.
Griffith University Student Diversion and Inclusion Manager Gabrielle O’Brien said Project Open Doors was a great example of embedding inclusion.
“It will help improve the way people with disabilities are portrayed in the media with inclusive language and images, diversity of perspectives, and narratives of people with disabilities being fully included in all aspects of life.”
Five per cent of Griffith University students have a disability or health condition with more than half registering with the Disabilities Service.
“Disabilities include visible and invisible conditions ranging from mobility, vision and hearing disabilities through to learning disabilities, long-term health conditions and mental health conditions.
Supports vary depending on the type of disability and the potential impact on the students.
Some students may feel they don’t need support which is great but we encourage them to come and talk to us or go online to find out what services we offer.
Ms O’Brien said students were often reluctant to disclose a disability or health condition because of stigma or perception from others.
“University is a challenging environment for anyone and we encourage all students to seek out ways to enhance their success and employment.
“We also want staff and the wider community to focus on ability not disability. Griffith has a range of strategies in place including a Disability Advisory Committee, the Disability Action Plan, Disabilities Service, support for staff with disabilities, and the Accessibility and Inclusion website aimed at fostering an inclusive and accessible environment.