By Gaby Sanchez
Claiming my status as one of the few media-obsessed, non-journalism students at Rhodes, I eagerly attended a workshop on sensitivity in the media held recently. While topics such as human rights, racism, LGBTI issues, HIV and positive coverage were thrown around, I noticed that nothing was being said about disability issues – or the lack thereof – in the media. This not only spoke of a problem at Rhodes, the so-called journalism Mecca of South Africa, but of a greater societal problem.
For the most part, media coverage of disability has been severely limited to the odd sympathy piece or sensationalist tripe. When mentioned, disability is immediately embodied by physical impairment, and all other impairments such as hearing, sight, learning, psychological and mental impairments are ignored. I suppose you’re going argue that this was not the case regarding the recent Beijing Paralympics Games? Little do most people know that without the incredible backlash from the disabled sporting community over many years, the Paralympics Games probably wouldn’t have been given that one lousy DSTV sports channel. Annoyingly, sporting stars like Natalie Du Toit and her sponsors have had a great role to play in obtaining greater coverage for the Games.
Why am I picking on Natalie Du Toit, you ask? While I acknowledge her great sporting achievements in both the disabled and abled-bodied sporting arenas, I feel she is maybe doing more of disservice to the disabled agenda in this country than anything else. While opportunities such as the Paralympics should open doors for media to tear down some of the stigma surrounding disability, it has become a popularity contest to see which disabled sportsperson has finally proved their worth as a sports star by qualifying for other abled-bodied events. South Africans lap up stories of people tragically becoming disabled and fighting their way back into abled mainstream society. Disabled sport in South Africa has never really been accepted on an equal par to mainstream sports. Hope lies in people such as Oscar Pretorius who, unlike Natalie Du Toit, shift the focus off their impairment and rather on to their achievement as a South African sportsperson as well as the achievement of their fellow teammates.
In this country, where sport has become the easiest platform for social transformation, disability is often separated from other types of oppression such as racism, sexism and class oppression. One would think that this issue would be given more attention. Even here at Rhodes this is not the case. Apart from the rather inaccessible residences, student support facilities such as the counselling centre, the SRC offices and poor academic extra-time application system, I find it rather sad that Rhodes, like South Africa’s media, seems to have forgotten the intersectionality of oppression and fails to have a fully functional Disabled Students Policy. For me, a proud disabled Rhodent, it makes me want to take to the streets and picket. Instead, I’ll just have to get back to drafting for change.