RespectAbility Media Toolkit

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The “how-to” guide for activists who want to get media coverage to empower people with disabilities to achieve the American dream

Transcript of RespectAbility Media Toolkit

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MEDIA TOOLKIT:The how-to guide for activists who want to get media coverage to empower people with disabilities to achieve the American dream


THE AMERICAN DREAM: ITS FOR ALL OF US Changing the images of people with disabilities in the media is a key part of enabling people with disabilities (PWDs) to achieve the American dream. This core dream has been fundamental to our nation and our people since the Declaration of Independence, which said, All men are created equal; meaning they should have equal opportunity. But the sad fact is that 70% of working-age people with disabilities in America are not working. This leads to poverty, powerlessness and prison. So how can we, who care about people with disabilities, work with the media to change that? This guide will give you step by step insights that can help you get winning media.

Back in the old days, people with disabilities didnt have access to quality education. Now, thankfully, with better access to education and technology some of the smartest and most productive people on earth are people with disabilities. Think of Stephen Hawking. Fifty years ago he wouldnt have been able to communicate. Today he is unlocking the secrets of the universe. People with a broad range of disabilities are making positive contributions to making America better. Its time for the media to change how they portray PWDs.

America needs every person who can and wants to work to do so. Think about it we have 10 million Americans with disabilities, most of whom want to work, ready to get off the sidelines and help make American companies stronger. When more people earn paychecks, the economy improves and we save tax money. People with disabilities want to and can contribute to the economy and your media efforts can help make that a reality!


Leaders and activists who care about people with disabilities (PWDs) should communicate about these issues to the media. The media (both the news media and Hollywood) is the lens through which Americans see people with disabilities. The Cosby Show and Oprah broke historic ground for race relations in our nation. All of a sudden African Americans were in the living rooms of white Americans and they became like welcomed family members. The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Will and Grace, and Modern Family caused tremendous change for LGBT issues. Public opinion shifted so quickly that elected officials and courts are practically falling over one another to change their views.

As disability leaders or activists, our goal with the media is to have them show people with disabilities for the talents and benefits that they bring to employers. To do this, you need a local hero who can be showcased in the media a company or organization that has been more successful because of their inclusive hiring processes. It needs to be a win-win pro-business/pro-employer story. It should also make the employer so proud of being associated with hiring people with disabilities that they will want to send it to their clients. That, in turn, can help inspire more employers to hire employees with disabilities.

This toolkit will provide you with real, practical steps to successfully reach out to the media and make a measurable impact.


Before you go out to the media you need to know the story you are selling. We want to focus on positive employment. Again, you need a hero which is a well-respected, honest local employer who is more successful because they hire people with disabilities. And you need at least one employee from that company or organization who is very productive and reliable in that job and who is willing to be profiled in media stories.

You will be tempted to make the story a human interest piece, about how a job socially benefits a person with a disability who now has their own apartment, more friends and maybe even a spouse. You can touch on that a little. But if you make the story about the employee, and not the employer, you risk it being a pity story or charity story. What we want to focus on is the better bottom line for the company. You want to show how having more loyal and good employees how the employer might be better at serving their customers, or perhaps able to expand to add more jobs in the community.

What would media success look like? We want stories that show local employers who are making more money or having more success because their employee(s) with disabilities are bringing real talent and loyalty to the table. We want to effect long-term change via employment. Possibly the best national story on this topic just came from CNBCs POWER LUNCH. Watch it carefully and imagine it with a local employer and expert on disability employment. We want it in the largest paper, business publication (i.e. Chamber of commerce newsletter) and TV news channel. See:

If you have a Walgreens distribution center in your local area, it could be that because inclusive hiring is a part of the Walgreen strategy to make more money. They found that employees with disabilities are more productive, less likely to quit (thus fewer hiring and training costs in the long term) and that they are great for the moral and productivity of their employees who dont have disabilities. You can find a lot of information about this program here:

To find your local media hero you should look and see if there are local awards given out to employers who hire people with disabilities. If you dont have such awards locally, you can start one. That way you can collect great stories and also recognize real success stories. The giving out of such an award can be a news hook.

Keep in mind, however, that most reporters will not find an awards ceremony to be news worthy. You want to bring a newspaper reporter to the actual work site so they can interview both the employer and the employee at the same time at the site and also take photos there. TV reporters might also come to the site, but more likely they will expect the employer, employee with a disability and yourself, as the disability leader, to come to their studio. Generally the disability leader or their PR person will tee up the story but not be on air, it depends on the piece.


A core part of your media strategy should be K.I.S.S. Keep It Short and Simple. Use this message triangle on the 3 points that you want to get into every news story on this topic. These are the mega messages. They are not meant to be a script, imagine them as topic sentences or buckets. Fill them up with more information and anecdotes to back them up. Make them your own.

The most important audience for good press are people that make hiring decisions. So go for media outlets or reporters who have an audience of people who make the top hiring decisions. For example, reach out to the business reporter at your local paper or TV station. Keep in mind that this audience wants to hear that hiring PWDs will make them money, and help save on taxes. Thus, no matter the question, try to bridge back to a core message triangle. For example, lets try the message triangle with another kind of wording:

1. Most Americans with disabilities (insert instead the name of your state or city instead the word America) want to work. Companies like Walgreens (or insert the name of the company that you have identified as your local hero) are more profitable because they DO hire people with disabilities. People with disabilities also have talents and they are very loyal employees saving training and turnover costs.

2. At (insert name of your company that is the local hero you are using as an example) we have been at the cutting edge of (insert the field they work in). Years ago Stephen Hawking wouldnt have been able to communicate. Now he is unlocking the secrets of the universe. Harnessing talents of people like Steven Hawking and many people with other kinds of disabilities is great for the corporate bottom line. Here at (insert name of local hero employer) we have the employee (insert the name of an employee working at that place who loves their job, is good at it and is willing to be in the media). He/she is outstanding at his/her job. He/she does (insert what this employee does so very well that it is a real asset to the company)

3. If we are going to be competitive with countries like China, more American companies need understand that a secret weapon for economic competitiveness is harnessing the talents of everyone. Currently, 70% of working age Americans with disabilities simply aren't working and disability payments are costing taxpayers . There are 10 million Americans who want to the opportunity to achieve the American dreama real job at a real wage. We want the numbers to add up to a better future for our nation.


Be ready for big questions and know the answers. It helps to get a co-worker, friend or family member to help you role play before you do an interview or go meet with a reporter. You can even prac