Thomas Gesora, 58, walks out of a three-day training workshop on reporting stories about people with disabilities with his head held high.
He began his career at Voice of Kenya, now Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, in 1987 as a sports reporter and progressed to a Swahili translator before being promoted to a senior supervisor in Kiswahili, and later the news editing desk before assuming the parliamentary reporter at the same station.
He acknowledges, however, that he had never received any training in reporting stories on People with Disabilities during those years.
That, he says, is despite holding various positions in the newsroom and attending journalism schools, beginning with a certificate program in mass communication from the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication before enrolling in the school of journalism at the University of Nairobi.
“This is my first training in reporting on People with Disabilities in my career. It is a good experience to gain that skill and know how to highlight issues of People with Disabilities,” Gesora says.
When Internews trainers pointed out that in various newsrooms across the country, there were journalists specializing in politics, health, environment, sports, business, and gender, Gesora realized there was a gap in his career path in the media industry.
He says that not knowing anything about disability reporting has been difficult, especially when editing stories about People with Disabilities.
“This training is an eye opener for me. I can’t rule out that I have not been handling stories on People with Disabilities because I have been filing the stories on my desk. As an editor, I have to go through all stories and make an opinion out of it,” he told this publication.
I believe that what we journalists give and portray in society is what people will take home. This training is a wake up call to us journalists to stand out and amplify and make the society change their view about People with DisabilitiesDorothy Ademi
The lack of experience in disability reporting in the newsroom has proven not to be a gender, age, or experience thing.
For instance, Dorothy Ademi, a news producer intern at TV 47 applied for the training after recognizing a need in her career.
“I believe that what we journalists give and portray in society is what people will take home. This training is a wake up call to us journalists to stand out and amplify and make the society change their view about People with Disabilities,” she says, noting that she was not taught about reporting on People with Disabilities in school.
Trainers noted that existing myths and stereotypes about People with Disabilities continue to influence how media highlight stories about People with Disabilities.
According to Temigunga Mahondo, a senior journalist trainer in Tanzania who teaches under the Boresha Habari program, how to improve media in society, it is simple to change the public views on a large scale by teaching journalists how to write stories that involve People with Disabilities.
That is because journalists communicate with a lot of people.
“When the public accepts that People with Disabilities have the same rights as Persons without Disability, it becomes much easier for them to ensure justice and eliminate discrimination,” he said.
The Communications Authority of Kenya directed all broadcasters to have sign language interpreters, and all media outlets to have 100 per cent signing during news and national events as well as all emergency announcements.
Need for collaboration
With current statistics indicating that one out of every ten Kenyans has a disability, Internews is urging the media to implement policies that will allow all Persons with Disabilities to consume all media content by providing information in multiple formats aimed at them, such as captioning, description, and visuals.
“When you have linkages with organizations of Persons with Disabilities then media houses will overcome some challenges of including contents of Persons with Disabilities,” says Jackie Lidubwi, the Inclusive Media Project Lead at Internews.
There are one billion People with Disabilities worldwide. During the training, disability advocate Isaac Mwaura told journalists that, like gender, disability is a social construct that emerges from the interaction of people with various types and forms of impairments.
There are so many People with Disabilities whose stories inspire not just Persons with Disabilities but everybody in society. We have learnt that there is potential when we tell our stories in a powerful manner through journalistsIsaac Mwaura
He described the training as pivotal, critical, and timely as the country embraces more constitutionalists.
“The voice of disabled people is still not amplified. The five per cent employment is still not attainable. So many parents are actually hiding their children and not giving them an opportunity that is enabled through education for all. Still many families are breaking up upon getting a child with disability, we have a long way to go,” Mwaura said.
The former nominated senator urged journalists to use their powerful platforms to help People with Disabilities achieve equality and equity while also enjoying their human rights and fundamental freedoms in an equal measure with others.
“There are so many People with Disabilities whose stories inspire not just Persons with Disabilities but everybody in society. We have learnt that there is potential when we tell our stories in a powerful manner through journalists,” said Mwaura.