By Joshua Blake
I know it’s been over a week since my last post, you don’t have to remind me. Truth be told, the day rolled around, and I hadn’t decided on a topic yet. Disability is something I’ve written about a lot over the last few years. I’ve lived with cerebral palsy since birth, and part of the reason I started writing about disability was to explore my own trepidations about how I navigate this world.
But that doesn’t make it any easier researching and dissecting issues a minority group that I’m a part of, faces. It also doesn’t make it harder – rather, it can be exhausting and demeaning.
Employment issues aside, the issues the disabled community faces seep into other societal and structural imbalances across the country. Surely you’ve heard of the massive infrastructure bill passed back in August. It’s the largest infrastructure bill to date, and has over 2,000 pages of text. The issues this bill is looking to fix are things that are long overdue. Our infrastructure received a C – grading for the year, and people living with disabilities in this country will be – and have been – impacted by these issues more negatively. This isn’t hyperbole, and it’s something President Biden is addressing.
The fact is, if you live with a disability in this country – in any country – there’s going to be barriers. I have a ton of biases surrounding the issues the disability community faces. Part of it stems from being someone who is a part of this group – others are more nuanced.
First and foremost, what do I mean?
For example, I don’t think these issues will ever get better – and by better, I mean a society that understands disability issues as issues that affect everybody to varying degrees. Our infrastructure is evidence of that misunderstanding. Obviously, nothing is perfect, and it’s not “supposed to be.” But if that were really true, than why do people keep advocating for their visions of society in the first place?
I’m not arguing advocacy for what a group believes in is inherently, or morally wrong. It’s the moral differences in and of themselves that are confounding to me. Societal issues are born from mismanagement. Usually, it’s governmental. And the political divides that breathe life into inaction are caused by the very things we morally disagree upon. You can’t fix that. Ever.
We’ve seen this with responses to the coronavirus pandemic, to name a more recent example. But our moral disagreements exist in every facet of our culture. Employment, working hours, worker pay, paid time off, sick leave, parental leave, taxes, healthcare, infrastructure, immigration. The list goes on. Add all of those issues together – I’m sure you face a multitude of them – and now, add on having a disability.
When you report on the issues a community you’re a part of faces, I believe one of two things happen: You see it as your duty, or you see it as your downfall. I also believe these two scenarios travel down the same one way street. So, really, it’s inevitable. In my mind, this becomes the reality of any reporter – not just those discussing the issues of minority communities.
The irony here is that the United States keeps falling further and further into disinformation loops about basic, everyday needs of the population, that we’re all just slowly disabling ourselves. We are becoming a country that doesn’t trust anything. So, how is anything supposed to get fixed? Ask any American how we fix political divides in this country and I guarantee you, you’ll get a 99% response rate of people saying “I don’t know.” Because we’re not supposed to know, right? That’s a job for the politicians we elect who we don’t trust to solve!
I know I’m going on a bit of a rant, so let me try and bring this back around. I believe every issue we face connects to misunderstanding, misrepresenting and misinforming people about the reality we live in. Go figure, I know! Though that belief comes from the stories about disability that I’ve written over the years. Talk to enough people and you’ll start to see patterns.
What about my other issues?
At some point during my time in college, I felt it was my obligatory duty to report on the issues the disabled community faces – because if I didn’t, who would?
On the surface, this may seem like the perfect mentality of a reporter. But there’s an issue here. Actually, multiple. First is the question of why I felt like that, and secondly, why put that pressure on myself? Perhaps I saw it as a means to an end. I’m documenting other people’s stories, I’ll make a difference!
But is it a difference for them, or me, or the both of us? Well, maybe this can lead you somewhere! Yeah! But, wait, isn’t it the job of a reporter to seek out the truth and inform people of that truth? Yes, that’s what I was taught – that’s what any self-respecting reporter was taught and would believe…so what happens after that? Well, your story goes through an editing process and eventually gets published. Sometimes you’ll write a story that causes real change! That’s exciting…but is that the end goal? Is that what it means to be a reporter? Discuss the issues of the world we live in, hoping that someone listens? No, no, that’s much too vain, isn’t it?
Journalism must exist for a different reason entirely. It has to.
I’ve written about disability over the last few years because I believe the issues centered around disability not only deserve to be heard by others, but that they must be. If I believe in that, than aren’t I advocating for a society that’s predicated on my world view? Sounds a bit narcissistic when I put it that way, huh?
Is that why journalism exists? A lot of people in this industry care about issues in similar ways, so, it’s not a one-size-fits-all narrative, either. But I still have my biases around disability.
I think disability issues trump most other issues. The fact that disability can intersect with a plethora of other problems people face makes it hard for me to not feel this way. But why would I pressure myself into writing about these issues as if I’m the only person who can do it? Maybe I felt like it would give me an identity – a means to an end. A literal meaning that justified why I believed I should write about disability. But I’m forgetting a crucial component here.
Nothing is that simple
Not once did I ask myself if that’s what I wanted – or why I wanted that in the first place. I felt as if I had to. I have a disability, so I must give people in my community a voice! But there’s many other reporters with disabilities.
There’s also the struggle of removing yourself emotionally – to a degree – on what it is you report on. When I was still in school working on my final project for my major, a reporter helped oversee the stories in my class. We watched and read a few of their stories to get an idea of how to really dig into a story and the people we talk to to get that story.
One day, out of the blue, I said I thought this reporter did a great job discussing difficult topics. They said thank you, and then I asked “how does it not affect you?”
“I never said it didn’t affect me,” they said.
When I think back on it, that answer scared me a bit. My question came from a place of uneasiness about myself – mentally and emotionally. It takes a toll on anyone to not only attempt to understand any facet of society, but to also figure out how to navigate that space for themselves.
My idea of who a reporter is and how they interact with the world was completely off-base. So, where does that leave me? Well, I’m not sure…