Friday, June 13, 2008

Education Week reporter reflects on how she can better cover disability issues

Christine Samuels of Education Week

Education Week reporter Christina A. Samuels covers the special education community, including administrators, teachers, and parents, and on her blog June 12, she discusses her discovery of the work of disability rights activist, attorney and author Harriet McBryde Johnson and how it caused her to wonder about whether she allows people with disabilities to tell their own stories in her education reporting.

"Which made me start thinking about my own writing, and if I allow people with disabilities enough space in my articles to express their own thoughts, rather than allowing others to speak for them," Samuels writes. "Part of the difficulty is that I'm writing about children, and adults normally speak for children. But are my own prejudices permitting me to allow people with disabilities to have their own say?"

She then discusses the recent media coverage of the autism rights movement and its implications in her reporting.

I am happy she is questioning how she covers disability issues. Most journalists privilege sources they think are authoritative such as researchers, educators or government officials, and the voices of actual people with disabilities go missing in news stories.

I understand the difficulties in interviewing children currently in the special education system, but thousands of adults have gone through that system and would make good sources on their experiences with it. Although she's concerned about the direction of groups like the Autism Self Advocacy Network, I think she should be using its members as the valid news sources they are.