21.1 People with disabilities and their concerns are either invisible, marginalised, or depicted by negative stereotypes in the media. The world as represented on television fails to include the estimated 350,000 Irish people who have some form of disability as a significant element in society. They may feature occasionally in news or magazine programmes but they rarely appear in quiz shows or game shows or as regular characters in drama or other popular television forms.
21.2 When they do appear, it is generally seen by people with disabilities themselves as being in a negative or offensive stereotype. The media stereotypes them as being either pitiable and pathetic; objects of violence; sinister and evil; super cripples; objects of ridicule; their own worst and only enemies; burdens; sexually abnormal; and incapable of participating fully in community life. In short, it is the kind of stereotyping which has helped to marginalise people with disabilities and exclude them from equal participation in society.
21.3 The extent to which the media can influence self-images and change the public's attitude is not altogether clear. Other factors are also at work in these areas, including family, medical and educational factors. But the media's role should be of concern to broadcasters and journalists as well as to people with disabilities and those who campaign on their behalf.
21.4 Research into the effects of media representations of disability should be funded jointly by the Department of Equality and Law Reform and the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht.
21.5 In the meantime, a number of steps should be taken to end the isolation and stereotyping of people with disabilities in the media. In post-primary schools, a section on the portrayal of people with disabilities should be included in media studies from the junior cycle onwards and in the film studies section in leaving Certificate English. In-service training for teachers should provide the appropriate material and teaching strategies for this.
21.6 All courses and training in the media, journalism and public relations should include specific strands on disability issues. For those already working in the media, there should be workshops and seminars on disability issues. A style book to provide guidelines about negative, offensive and limiting language should be commissioned and published by the Department of Equality and Law Reform.
21.7 People with disabilities should be helped to participate in media and journalism courses by bursaries established by the Department of Education and the Department of Equality and Law Reform. They should also be given resources to enable them to attend training courses in public relations, lobbying and media management.
21.8 A database of available contributors and sources should be drawn up by the relevant officer of the National Union of Journalists. It could be modelled on Raidio na Life, the Irish-language community station in Dublin, which is currently compiling a database of Irish language contributors. While lobby groups would clearly benefit from an equivalent database, it would also be of interest to the media.
21.9 RTE, the Independent Radio and Television Commission and the National Newspapers of Ireland should provide ongoing funding for an independent Media and Disability Unit. This Unit would provide training and expertise to media organisations to ensure the full participation of people with disabilities in media services. It would provide advice about the portrayal of people with disabilities, the coverage of disability events, making programmes specifically for people with disabilities, and disability awareness training.
21.10 Media coverage of disability issues should be brought into the mainstream by, for instance, having them covered by general correspondents rather than by health correspondents. RTE should look at ways in which people with disabilities can be made more visible on television both as presenters and participants. The Advertising Standards Association of Ireland should stringently enforce the Guidance Note on the Portrayal of Disabled People in Advertising, lending particular weight to the views of people with disabilities.
21.11 Public funding to RTE and any other media funding should be dependent on the development by the funded organisation of an appropriate policy concerning people with disabilities. All media institutions and professional organisations should undertake positive measures to facilitate participation and membership by people with disabilities.
21.12 Submissions to the Commission included criticisms of the inadequacy of sign-language and sub-titling on television for the deaf community. The Commission recommends that RTE and other television stations with national licences should expand the number of hours and the range of programmes which are sub-titled. There should be a minimum of 50% of all programming hours captioned by 1998 and this should increase to all programming as soon as possible afterwards.
21.13 The National Rehabilitation Board or its successor should initiate a feasibility study into the establishment of a Disability Programmes Unit in association with appropriate partners such as RTE, the IRTC, FÁS, local radio stations and education institutions. Research should identify potential sources of funding and resources; whether it should operate within RTÉ or another organisation or as an independent company; and define its functions.
21.14 RTÉ should specify how it envisages using new information technologies as distribution mechanisms, feedback systems, and alternative media for people with disabilities. In the context of the Green Paper on Broadcasting, the establishment of any broadcasting authority should incorporate clear and accountable methods for dealing with complaints about programmes for or about people with disabilities and include appropriate enforcement mechanisms.
21.15 The use of the Internet as a forum for discussing Irish and international media and disability issues should also be examined. Disability groups should set up World Wide Web pages on the Internet to provide links to other relevant Web pages, to Television, Radio, Print and other news services. These sites should also include online archives of text-based documents relevant to radio and TV productions as well as software resources for computer-users with disabilities (such as text to speech conversion software and help files for people with visual difficulties using MAC and Windows operating systems).
21.16 The establishment of a Disability and Perception film or television programme should be initiated jointly by the Irish Film Board and RTÉ as part of their continuing commitment to and extension of equality principles. This could form a section of the "Short Cuts" initiative.