On June 25 and 26, Rooted in Rights — a project dedicated to telling authentic, accessible stories to challenge stigma and redefine narratives around disability, mental health and chronic illness through short form video, documentaries and a blog — is hosting a virtual conversation: Disability, Media, and What’s Next. Disabled media makers are invited to join us for two virtual half-day sessions to connect and discuss our current work and our hopes for the future of disability in media.
Before the pandemic, Rooted in Rights was planning to have a small in-person gathering for disabled media makers in New York to talk about how we make our media accessible, key issues we were covering and what was changing (or needed to change) about the way disability is represented in the media.
Then came COVID-19, and our priorities shifted rapidly to covering this life-or-death issue that disproportionately impacted the disability community. Suddenly the news was overflowing with stories in which people were either fine with disabled people dying, or simply ignored our community and our stories altogether.
Experiences of oppression continued to come to a head, especially for Black disabled people, following the murder of George Floyd. As Black Lives Matter protests ramped up around the country, Rooted in Rights focused on gathering stories from Black disabled activists who needed a space to share their knowledge and experience because it wasn’t being included in mainstream stories. We weren’t, and still aren’t, seeing enough mainstream conversations including people with disabilities (a broad group that includes people with mental health disabilities, substance use disabilities, neurodivergence, sensory disabilities, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and mobility disabilities).
Much of the mainstream media coverage that can be found online around the pandemic and Black Lives Matter continues to be extremely hostile, ableist, racist and entitled, particularly in Seattle. Though the internet is often the place where disabled people find community, it is also a disorganized, inaccessible and often terrifying place. But in order to connect, we take the bad with the good. For example, some of the most reliable documentation of protests and events were livestreams, local media like Converge Media and other social media posts, which were largely inaccessible to many disabled people. We worked to transcribe and provide accessibility where we could next to other online volunteer collectives like Protest Access or Transcribe This. We amplified the accessible versions of content as often as possible. It became more crucial than ever to connect and find people to work with — people who understood navigating inaccessibility and exclusion. People who, like us, were improvising with accessibility on Zoom and social media when it was an afterthought to everyone else.
So, to meet the moment, Rooted in Rights shifted the idea of an in-person gathering about disability and media to a free virtual conversation. Our goal is to provide a space for media makers who self-identify as disabled. We are covering four broad topics designed to initiate conversation: Disability in 2020, Media Accessibility, Disability Representation in the Present, and Disability Representation in the Future. The conversations will be held in small groups so people have the time to share, discuss, pause and reflect. Each breakout room will have a facilitator, guiding questions, ASL interpreters and live captioning. We are also encouraging our facilitators to let the conversation flow as needed.
We are thrilled by the roster of facilitators who have joined us for this event: Elea Chang, Lawrence Carter-Long, Amber DiPietra, Riley Dwight, Patty Liang, Angela Lemus-Mogrovejo, Chelsey Morgan, Syren Nagakyrie, Tiffany Yu and Melissa Elmira Yingst. We are equally thrilled by the variety of disabled media makers who have already signed up to join us. As of the time of publishing, registration is almost full, but if you are disabled and want to join us, please register at bit.ly/DisabilityMediaChat. For those who can’t join, and anyone interested, we will be compiling takeaways from all the conversations and sharing them after the event.
We want this to be a casual space to talk about accomplishments and frustrations, and most importantly to connect with others doing work for the same reasons we are: because we are disabled, we demand to be included and we are working against the structures designed to keep us isolated. We may not be jet setting to New York, but I hope the conversations we hold virtually are powerful and affirming for everyone. I hope that we connect with other disabled media makers who we haven’t connected with before.
Allexa Laycock (she/they) is the creative director of Rooted in Rights.
Rooted in Rights is the Media Advocacy Team of Disability Rights Washington and produces media by and for people with disabilities about the issues that affect their lives directly. Find Rooted in Rights and register for ‘Disability, Media, and What’s Next’ @RootedInRights on social media and at RootedInRights.org.
Read more of the June 16-22, 2021 issue.