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Latinos with Disabilities and the Media

By Shanti Nair

photo of Workshop presenters Horacio Esparza and Ramon Canellada
Workshop presenters Horacio Esparza (left) and Ramon Canellada (right).

We all know that Media is a main tool in creating an impression in society. Projecting a certain image is a prevalent aspect of our lives. We put in so much of effort to “look good” that we undermine anything that deviates from the norm. Panel discussion was on the relationship between disabilities and the media in the Latino world, which even could be applied to a diverse population.

Ramon Canellada Disability Resource and Accessibility Program Coordinator, Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital Chicago, spoke of how stereotyping impacts the media with great consequence. There is a growing need to change media’s perception about disability. They should be influenced to send out positive messages to society about disability. Individuals with disabilities need to be treated respectfully. As children are influenced by media messages, they should be taught to be sensitive to individuals with disabilities. Those of us with disabilities should use the media to our advantage in creating awareness about disability. Often reality is distorted to give a negative image of individuals with disabilities. These individuals should establish a relationship with the media in educating them about disabilities. Active involvement in a social movement is a viable solution. People should keep in mind that politically correct terms in different cultures vary when addressing or referring to the disabled population.

Horacio Esparza, Progress Center for Independent Living, Illinois, shared how media’s messages had impacted him. To give an idea of the media’s influence on society he shared how people compared him to Stevie Wonder because he is visually impaired and has a radio show. In the Latino culture one had the image of a beggar when picturing an individual with a disability. Media could change this image in a positive manner. He lives by the belief that as long as we reach out to our dreams we could make them come true. Media seems to be concerned about pleasing society with the type of messages they send. They are also interested in creating a perfect image of how people are expected to look a certain way. He suggests we could use the media to our advantage to change this image. Educating people on disabilities and showing support for them through radio programs is good. He has learned this through personal experience, which inspired him to start his own radio show. People should realize that a disability is not one’s identity. Misuse of terms by labeling them as “Handicap” hurts one’s self-esteem. Many individuals with disabilities have a predisposition to an addiction and have been abused.

When asked how can we change the image of the media, he said: “We need to educate them on disability. Create an awareness to understand disability”. Media is not interested in “yellow journalism” which focuses on the plight of the disabled. To the question “how can we build rapport with the media”? Esparza said, “We should educate the media on usage of proper terminology when addressing individuals with disabilities”. They should be invited for conferences and events for individuals with disabilities. We should network with the media to create contacts”. Canellada added that strategizing with the media is helpful. At the end of the session a moving documentary opened our eyes to accepting and looking beyond disability. This was well illustrated by the short clip that was about a soldier who called his parents saying that he was returning from war. He told them that he would like to bring somebody back home to live with him. He added that he had lost an arm & leg and he had no family to care for him. His parents tried to dissuade him saying that he does not realize it is a great responsibility. He hung up the phone in frustration. After a few weeks the parents got a call that their son had jumped from the top of a building and committed suicide. When they went to identify the body they found he had an arm and leg missing. Was this an extreme measure to prove that people need to accept another person’s disability unconditionally? Or was it the only way for him to know that he would be accepted despite the disability? We will never know the answers.

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