Make Sure You Don’t Step Out of Line: Media, disability and personal interests

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As a dedicated soccer fan I believe that a good game is one in which you don’t feel the intervention of the referee.  Of course he has an important role to play in making sure that everyone follows the rules and making sure things don’t get out of hand, but the main mission of the referee is to let the game take place, not to interrupt and not to create unnecessary distraction.  This simple principle is the basis of many economic, cultural and social ways of thinking lead to the free market, expressionist art and pluralism. However, when we talk about persons with disabilities, it seems the rules of the game are different.  The worrying fact is that it doesn’t matter how many persons with disabilities hold key positions in Israeli politics, in culture, economics or industry, it seems that media reports about a person with a disability will always come from a narrow, personal, and superficial angle.

As the overused expression says, “the media loves yellow”.  But if we try to understand what causes the obsessive insistence of the media to concentrate on the lowest common denominator, maybe we’ll be able to grasp the extent of the missed opportunity and the interests that are behind the scenes.  In order to do this we must define 3 basic principles:

  1. The media looks for an interesting story and isn’t really interested from what point of view it will be presented
  2. People with disabilities with significant achievements are extremely talented individuals who want to be treated in an equal and dignified manner
  3. The disability industry in Israel makes a lot of money mostly for… people without disability.

Let’s now take a look at two stories that recently made the headlines; the first one is about the Fund for Rehabilitation Projects (Keren Lemifalei Shikum) that employs thousands of people with disabilities in tedious, repetitive work for an average wage of less than 10 NIS an hour.  Unsuccessful management and a refusal to introduce a recovery plan, led the organization into economic difficulties.  The second story is similar and deals with a company that employs people with disabilities in telemarketing positions: again financial loss, insufficient funding from the state etc., etc.

In both of these stories the media chose to support the employers over the disadvantaged employees, and these wonderful projects that give so much relief to “ill-fated individuals” as defined by the reporters.  The media pressure resulted in additional budgetary allocations that ensured the future of the projects and their directors, who, of course, earn much more than 10 NIS an hour.

So who do we have here?  Spokespersons, public relations professionals, money, “ill-fated individuals”….

What did we get?  A heart wrenching article

What did we lose? The opportunity to bring about change because disability was placed in the “unfortunate” slot

In my work during the past few years as the spokesperson of Bizchut, I have been working to get people with disabilities out of the slot that is “reserved” for them by the controlling forces in the media.  Regretfully, I have come to the conclusion that the referee manages to control the game every single time.  Instead of letting the inclusion that is taking place in our society happen naturally, the media has chosen to bend reality and highlight the places that segregate and reinforce outdated approaches.  It seems the media is stuck in paternalistic concepts that perpetuates the marginalized place of people with disabilities in society, or worse than that, in the hands of agencies with personal interests…