Friday, March 7, 2008

Where's the media coverage of the EEOC federal disability hiring report?

A report on federal disability employment from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), "Improving the Participation Rate of People with Targeted Disabilities in the Federal Work Force," came out in January 2008, so I did a Lexis-Nexis search to see if any U.S. newspaper or wire service covered it. Couldn't find any. The New York Times or The Washington Post? Nope. Combined magazines? Nope.

The disability magazine New Mobility did do a short story about the report's findings, which are quite significant. The report "says 2,006 federal employees with severe disabilities accounted for slightly less than 1 percent of the government’s workforce, the lowest percentage in 20 years. The report also found that from 1997 to 2006 the government workforce increased by 5.5 percent while the number of employees with severe disabilities decreased by 14.75 percent," according to New Mobility.

"Reasons for the decline include bias or lack of managerial training; persisting myths and stereotypes; increase in contractor hiring to fill jobs at lower pay grades; and reluctance of managers to use specific hiring programs for those with disabilities," according to New Mobility.

An important disability story with no coverage in the mainstream news media is not surprising, but the statistics in the report are pretty scary, because if federal government is doing this poorly in employing people with disabilities, then I fear the private sector is even worse.

The only good news I found in Lexis-Nexis is that The Washington Post did cover the annual EEOC report in 2004 and 2006. Is there something I am missing here? Why not cover an annual report annually? And why skip 2008, if the newspaper previously covered it every two years? Sadly, I blame not just the ongoing lack of coverage of disability topics but the state of journalism today.

One media critic calls what has happened to journalism "churnalism." According to a Feb. 19 Media Life article, "Nick Davies is a longtime investigative reporter who writes for Britain's respected Guardian newspaper, and in his new book, Flat Earth News, he contends that nowadays most journalists in much of the developed world are in the business of recycling stories fed to them by the public relations industry and the news wires."

As journalism crashes and burns in the next few years, I think news about disability topics, already under-covered and marginalized, may disappear even more from mainstream news sources. So it may be up to the disability community to embrace the citizen journalism movement to get their issues before the public. PBS provided this guide to citizen journalism in 2006. This switch in who is writing the stories might not be a bad thing for the disability community, because finally some people who "get" the issues may be reporting on them. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.