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A study analyses how digital press represents people with disabilities


Researchers from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) and the Spanish Centre for Subtitling and Audio Description (CESyA, in its Spanish acronym) have analysed the state of representation of people with disabilities in the Spanish digital press.

The study, recently published in the Spanish Journal of Disability, analyses media representation of disability with the aim of determining whether the media analysed is spreading a stereotyped or discriminatory image of this group of people, which may affect their relationships with other members of society.

According to the authors of the study, 70% of the news analysed complied with directions included in the Spanish Royal Board on Disability’s Style Guide about disability for communication professionals, providing an inclusive image of this group. It has been concluded that the situation in regard to disability in the media is gradually improving, although complete normalisation has not been achieved. Media professionals “should find a balance between reporting using as much data as possible while maintaining a level of respect for those with disabilities, avoiding promoting negative images related to them”, says one of the authors of the study, Gema López Sánchez, predoctoral researcher at CESyA - UC3M.

This research has been based on a methodological triangulation that includes a bibliographic analysis, another quantitative analysis of two hundred digital news outlets from 2019, along with interviews with expert sources. Different factors were taken into account during the analysis of the news, such as the type of media outlet, the journalistic genre of the news, the section in which it is published, the main source, the type of disability represented, and the approach, among other things.

Where can this news be found?

According to the results of this research, information about disability is usually found in the local digital press and local supplements of the national press, most often within the news genre and in the society section, followed by the events section (the latter section is more common for news about individuals). The national media outlets that report the most news about disability are La Vanguardia, 20 Minutos, El Economista and ABC.

In terms of information sources, 38% of the news analysed came from press releases and events organised by organisations with direct links to disability, mainly CERMI (Spanish National Committee of Representatives of People with Disabilities) and ONCE (Spanish National Organisation for Blind People). Therefore, organisations and associations put pressure on the media to deal with issues that are relevant to them. On the other hand, 19% of the online newspapers that have the highest amount of news related to disability cited news agencies (Servimedia, EFE and Europa Press) as sources.

Profile of those featured in news about disability

The type of disability that appeared most often in the press within the period studied was intellectual disability, followed by physical disabilities (organic or mobility), sensory disabilities (blindness, deafness and deafblindness) and debilitating mental illness. The latter is the least represented disability, only being mentioned in four of the two hundred information outlets.

Media coverage of disability usually refers to groups, and one led by individuals presents a gender gap in which two out of every three news stories focus on men, without LGBTQ+ representation. Few stories focus on individuals, and in these cases they appear to become spokespeople for their disability or star in news-related events.

López-Sánchez, G., Utray, F. y Ruiz-Mezcua, B. (2020) Representación de la discapacidad en la prensa digital española. Revista Española de la Discapacidad. 8 (2). 33-35. DOI: