Representation matters

I’ve wanted to be a journalist for a long time but one of the most important issues I’m fighting for in this journey is for better representation of people with disabilities (and other minority groups) in the media.

It’s easy to say that only disabled journalists can tell the stories of those with a disability, but to me, this is unrealistic.

I believe we just need to teach journalists without a disabiliy how to tell the stories of those with disabilities fairly and accurately as well as increase the number of disabled journalists we have in newsrooms.

While I love and respect the art of journalism and its importance in our society, where journalism falls short is its diversity of voices and proper representation.

This needs to change…. I’m about to show you how.

Change your angle!

Mistakes made when telling the stories of those with a disability lie within two key areas: language and angle.

We should all know by now that disability is not an off limits or taboo topic in itself. In fact, this kind of news is extremely important and should be talked about at great length.

What’s wrong is often the stories that journalists choose to highlight, or how journalists position certain stories.

it would seem that many articles featuring stories of those with a disability are designed to promote the lives of those with disabilities as either inspirational or pitiful. Neither one of these positions is accurate or helpful. “Inspiration porn” is the objectification of people with a disability for the benefit of people without a disability. Pity stories convey the message that “disability is negative” and “at least your life is not that bad”.

Again, these stories are INACCURATE and quite frankly cruel. How anyone could claim these are even reasonable excuses for journalism in today’s day and age, completely astounds me.

Upgrade your vocabulary!

Speaking of today’s day and age – let’s talk about political correctness.

Nobody gets the difficulties that come with being politically correct more than me. Trust me, I’m a writer. But unfortunately, there is no getting around this one, guys… I mean, people.

To quote the great piece of literature: Going on a bear hunt

We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. We have to go through it – Michael Rosen

The reason why political correctness has become so important in recent years, I think, is because we have come to understand that all members of society, particularly marginalised groups, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Equality and access to all is the main goal here and that’s not exactly an unreasonable request, is it?

Certain language and behaviours can be extremely harmful to those in marginalised groups and nobody understands that better than the people who have been affected by them. The disability community is no different.

It is important for all of us to watch our language and correct any exclusionary or derogatory terms, but it is particularly important for journalists as they are supposed to speak to/for the wider community.

  1. The terms “disability” or “disabled” ARE NOT BAD WORDS. So please use them!

Trying to use words like: special, special needs, handicappedphysically/mentally challenged is problematic. It shows that you as a writer/journalist are afraid or uncomfortable with the words “disabled” or “disability” and you’d prefer to skirt around it instead of acknowledging it straight up.

We need to acknowledge the disability community exists; that is the first step to creating an accessible and equal society.

  1. Other terms we DEFINITELY shouldn’t be using in today’s day and age include: retard, cripple/crip, spastic/spasdemented, mental etc. Just like the B-word, they are outdated and derogatory

Journalists often use words to describe those without a disability in a negative light which, without meaning to, can also be exclusionary and offensive to the disability community. This includes words like: psychotic, schizophrenic, bi-polar, stupid, idiot.

It’s different when we are referring to someone who actually has the disability, but when these words are used as an insult (which they often are) it isn’t and shouldn’t be acceptable.

What I’m really trying to say is, sorry but you’re gonna have to get more creative with your insults from now on.

We need to change before we do any more harm!

Shake up your newsrooms!

After a quick google search: disabled journalists in Australia, I found all of 2. One of whom has passed away.

I’m sure there are more out there but the fact that there aren’t any mainstream ones, or that I have to go digging further suggests that there are not enough.

It is extremely difficult to find statistics on disabled people in newsrooms. However, here is an excerpt from a previous blog post I did on disability and unemployment as a whole.

People with a disability are employed at a rate 30% lower than the general community. According to the Australian network on Disability; the unemployment rate for those aged 15-64 with a disability, is significantly higher (9.4%) than those without a disability (4.9%) in 2017. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that a whopping 53.4% of people with a disability (15-64) in 2012 participated in the workforce compared to 83.2% without a disability.

We can see that the employment gap between people with a disability and people without is extremely big and it will stay that way until we do something about it!

Scholarship programs, diversity quotas, SOMETHING!

And by the way, this isn’t just about giving people with disabilities jobs in journalism. But its about diversifying voices. People with disabilities can not only write about disability (and do it well) but they also provide a unique perspective from which they are able to write on many different subjects.

When you diversify your newsrooms, you also diversify your audience.

I rest my case.

Image: Stella Young, activist and journalist (1982-2014)

Claudia Forsberg is a Melbourne based writer and journalist. She is currently working as a Regional Trainee with ABC Ballarat.


  1. Liz Hall-Downs

    Great piece Claudia. Thankyou! I will be sharing it.

  2. Dave Riley

    What I like so much about you Claudia isn’t so much your personal biographical CV — but that you write so well.
    That’s so true.
    This post is a case in point. Ms Concrete: not flowery at all — but in relentless pursuit of your argument with enough personalized input to entice subjective connection..
    Your writing reminds me of Egon Erwin Kisch — who, I’m sure, is referenced at your uni library.
    Aside from the furore of his Australian visit (you gotta read ‘ Australian Landfall’) , he has a style of journalism that mixed the personal and political so very well.
    As a a matter of interest, I’d love to read your POV on who you think are the current best Australian journalists….
    And if you haven’t seen ‘Public Enemy No. 1’, I’d rectify the oversight if I was you:
    As a matter of interest, I used to work with Jill Jollife
    ..and i think you write better than she did/does.
    You’re good: but don’t let praise go to your head.

  3. Bart

    Great article. One thing…..let’s remember that part of the reason the unemployment rate for disabled people is so high is that many cannot work due to their disability



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