About 15 journalists were earlier this week in Akwanga, Nasarawa State, trained on the accurate and balanced portrayal of persons with disabilities (PWDs).
The two-day workshop held between Tuesday and Thursday was organised by the Inclusive Friends Association, IFA – a nongovernmental organization with a clear focus on promoting the image and enhancing the voices of PWDs.
According to the organisers, the training became necessary because of the common and negative stereotypes of persons with disabilities which has been allowed to penetrate even the mainstream media.
“The media are the agenda setters. They can deeply influence public opinion and establish societal norms,” Grace Jerry, IFA executive director, said in her opening presentation.
“Persons with disabilities are hardly covered in the media, and when they are featured, they are often negatively stereotyped and not appropriately represented,” she said.
Ms Jerry said it has become common to see PWDs treated with pity or presented as superheroes who have accomplished great feats, so as to inspire persons without disabilities.
During the training, journalists underwent sessions on implications on raising awareness, countering stigma and misinformation about PWDs.
One of the facilitators, Jide Ojo, took the journalists through a session on framing and reframing several stereotypes, misconceptions and ambiguous words used in addressing PWDs.
“It is better to say Bartimaeus, the blind, than Blind Bartimaeus,” he said noting that it is better to put the person first before the disability.
“Only refer to a disability when it’s relevant to the story and when the diagnosis comes from a reputable source, such as a medical professional. When possible, ask the PWD how he or she would like to be described. If the PWD is not available or unable, ask a trusted family member or relevant organisation that represents people with disabilities,” he explained.
Social protection of PWDs
A report by the World Health Organisation and the World Bank in 2011, said 25 million people in Nigeria have one form of physical disability or the other. The figure accounts for at least 15 per cent of Nigeria’s current population of 200 million, according to the UN estimates.
But these PWDs are seldom socially included, even though they are often among the most vulnerable in society, and typically face tougher barriers to education, health, transport, and other services.
It is often harder for people with disabilities to improve their livelihoods and or take advantage of economic opportunities due to the exclusion they experience.
In an attempt to address the situation, last January, Nigeria signed into law the prohibition of discrimination against persons with disabilities bill, after over 20 years of advocacy by notable Nigerians including David Anyeale, a disability rights activist and Executive Director, Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD).
But more than a year after the signing of the law, many Nigerians living with disabilities say the journey towards legal recognition and respect by Nigeria is still long. The government that approved the law has literally helped violate it.
For example, while the law says at least five percent of all public appointments must go to people with disabilities, governments at various levels have so far not complied with the law. President Muhammadu Buhari appointed no person with a disability into his 43-member cabinet last August.
Esther Angulu, a social inclusion officer with Save the Children, delivered a session on enhancing the social protection of PWDs during the workshop.
She said there is need for a robust campaign that will make government engender specific social safety nets and programs for PWDs.
“Those who have the desire but lack funds to get an education, those that are looking for jobs or have special skills that need to be enhanced.”
Ms Angulu said a good way to start is by advocating that a specific portion of the 3.6 million Nigerians in the national register of vulnerable persons should be mapped out for PWDs.
Role of media
In her presentation, a broadcaster, Eugenia Abu, said the media has a duty to shine the spotlight on the vulnerability of PWDs.
“The world is in a difficult place now with COVID-19, which has affected vulnerable groups in more ways than it has affected ordinary people,” she said.
“People with disabilities are disproportionately affected by the impacts of COVID-19 and are disproportionately left out of the response to COVID-19,” Mrs Abu said.
Many people with disabilities have underlying medical conditions — such as motor neuron disease, cerebral palsy, and multiple sclerosis — that make them more vulnerable to the virus. The elderly also fall into this category.
The veteran journalist said PWDs are at risk not because of their condition but because they are being socially excluded.
“This is where the media comes in. To be fair, the media has its own challenges such as poor capacity and funding, hence there is not always enough research and proper reporting of critical issues.
“However, there should be a conscious effort in reporting PWDs issues. It should be given pride of place. It should be reported with the right words and structure to properly address the needs of this very important portion of our population.”
Mrs Abu, who anchored the daily NTA 9 p.m nightly news broadcast for nearly 20 years, also harped on the need for accurate data in reporting about PWDs.
“I think it’s critical we look at data as a lifesaver. You cannot provide for people who you don’t know. Data is the one source that gives us the opportunity to know what we are dealing with.
“Currently, the data we are using for PWDs are getting outdated and might not reflect the current reality. When you don’t have correct data, you cannot provide appropriately, you cannot provide enough. It is either you underserve or over-served or don’t serve at all.
“We should ask the NBS, NPC to provide accurate and up to date data so journalists can better report issues of PWDs.”
She also thanked IFA for bringing journalists together for “such an important training”.
During the interactive sessions, journalists identified various ways to enhance reporting of issues that concern PWDs.
The organisers resolved to make the training, co-funded by Save the Children and UKAID, a regular feature in shoring up an understanding of issues dealing with PWDs.