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Why are media ignoring the problems of people with disabilities? (1)

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The use of respectful terms for people with disabilities is a special ethical challenge, because disrespectful language can cause a feeling of exclusion, writes human rights expert Žarko Trajanovski in the analysis originally published on the blogsite mediumi.kauza.mk. The first part of his analysis follows.

“Words are important! Journalists should know which term they should use to denote a community. The best test of this is whether the community wants to be denoted with such a term? If the term is derogatory, it must not be used regardless of the arguments that may seem valid or typical to you." (Guide on Ethics in Journalism)

Polling station No. 2842 at the local elections in the municipality of Centar, 21.04.2013 (Photo: Metamorphosis)Polling station No. 2842 at the local elections in the municipality of Centar, 21.04.2013 (Photo: Metamorphosis)

All journalists are obliged to respect the human dignity and the human rights of all people, including the members of marginalized groups. Journalists should be particularly careful when using terms to denote discriminated communities and groups, as one of the most widespread forms of discrimination is the negative and disparaging linguistic identification. The use of respectful terms for people with disabilities is a special ethical challenge, because disrespectful language can cause a feeling of exclusion.

Use of the terms "invalids", "invalidity", "invalid"
In general, journalists should not use the archaic term "invalid" (literally meaning "incorrect”, "faulty"). In practice, we come across the ethical dilemma: How can we avoid the use of the terms "invalids", "invalidity" and "invalid" when they are an integral part of the existing laws, institutions and associations?

How can we avoid the use of the term "invalids" when writing about the government’s "Department of Veterans and Invalid Veterans Affairs" which includes a “Department for soldier and invalid protection” responsible for realizing the rights to “Military invalidity” “Family invalidity”, “Invalids allowance”...? How can we avoid the use of the term “invalid” when reporting on issues related to the “Pension and Invalid Insurance Fund of Macedonia” or the Law on Pension and Invalid Insurance, the Law on invalids organizations, the Law on employment of invalid persons...? Finally, how can we avoid the use of the term "invalids" when this term is included in the names of several civic associations?

How can we resolve these ethical dilemmas? Undoubtedly, journalists don’t have the right to change the names of existing laws, institutions and associations. However, they have an ethical obligation not to knowingly produce or process information encouraging discrimination and to defend the human rights, dignity and freedom. In addition, journalists also have a responsibility to avoid generalization based on disability. If certain NGOs still use the term "invalids" to denote themselves, this does not mean that the same term should be used to denote the whole discriminated group. If some institutions and laws still use the term "invalids", this should be a reason for journalists to bring up the following question: Why do the laws and institutions protecting citizens’ rights still use outdated terms that violate their right to dignity and respect?

Journalists should avoid the "invalid" adjective even when it comes to widely accepted expressions such as "invalids pension", “invalids home", "invalids commission", "invalids wheelchair". Instead of the description "people bound to a wheelchair", the expression “people using a wheelchair" should be used.

Use of the terms "handicap", "people with special needs", "people with disabilities"
"Colorful legislation at the expense of invalids" is a typical news article using many different terms. The subheading of the article uses another expression "Colorful legislation at the expense of the rights of persons with developmental disabilities". The article cites the recommendation of the experts:
"It is best to avoid the term ‘handicap’ and use ‘people with disabilities’ instead".

The next sentence refers to "invalids’ organizations" according to which:
"The term ‘handicap’ should not be avoided because it indicates the need to undertake greater political action so these people would feel even more free and equal with everyone else in the country".

On one hand, the use of various references (such as "these people"), indicates the confusion of the journalist and on the other hand, the use of the term "invalids" in the title overshadows the failed attempt to bring up the question about the different use of these terms in the laws.

The recommendations for interaction with people with disabilities suggest the avoidance of the outdated terms "handicapped", "crippled" or "retarded". However, the Macedonian media still uses titles emphasizing exactly these terms: Texas executed a mentally retarded prisoner,Children are trained to act retarded, Small firecrackers - toys that cripple children, Crippled by moral invalids...

If journalists prefer to use legal terms, it is best to use the terms "people with (mental and physical) disabilities", having in mind that mental and physical disability is recognized as a discriminatory basis in the "Law on Prevention and Protection against Discrimination". The same law includes a definition of what constitutes discrimination against people with mental and physical disabilities, including cases when "no measures are taken to remove the restrictions, or to adapt the infrastructure and space for using publicly available resources or participating in the public and social life".

Unfortunately, the problem with the inaccessibility of polling stations for people in wheelchairs was not covered by the media, although it was indicated by representatives of the international monitoring mission at the local elections. A few media promoted the problem with the denial of voting rights to people with disabilities in the pre-election campaign. Most of the media ignored the debate "My vote counts, too" organized by "Polio Plus", according to which:
"Only 1 percent voted, of the 10 percent of handicapped persons from the total number of citizens in Macedonia" (Handicapped people are insufficiently informed about their voting rights).

Read the second part of this analysis.

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This analysis was created within the framework of the USAID Media Strengthening in Macedonia Project - Media Fact-Checking Service Component, implemented by Metamorphosis. The analysis is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Metamorphosis, USAID or the United States Government. For more information on the work of USAID in Macedonia please visit its website (http://macedonia.usaid.gov) and Facebook page (www.facebook.com/USAIDMacedonia).

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