CHANGE DISABILITY MESSAGING TO REALIZE THE FULL POTENTIAL OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES

In mid-2020, Black Lives Matter protests heightened in intensity after the death of George Floyd in the US. The protests became evidence of Black marginalization across the world and the struggle to be seen equally on the basis of being a human being rather than a person with a different complexion. The protests also became a wakeup call to the modern-day corporates to come up with strategies to address racial inequality on the long-term basis, since the many times companies had been caught being complacent in social evils eroded their credibility to their customers. This time corporations were in it for the long haul. The effect of this has been Black executives being at the helm in multinational companies, with the examples of British American Tobacco (BAT) and global audit firm Deloitte, just to mention. 

 

As companies were pledging financial support to economically uplift people of color, streaming platform YouTube pledged to give funds to Black content creators to amplify black voices and fight systemic racism. The funding initiative came at a better time as the world was grappling with glaring disparities in vaccine distribution which only magnified the 400 year long effect of Black slavery. YouTube, with its massive worldwide reach of 1 billion people, was the best platform to tell a different story about Black people and change the world around them. 

 

The growth of YouTube has been attributed to low entry requirements and a wider reach, unlike the mainstream media where you have to satisfy editors and directors that your story is worthy of broadcasting or publishing. YouTube has led to the rise of communities and championing of causes that were previously ignored by the mainstream media. The coming of alternative means of communication such as YouTube, podcasts and social media sites has seen massive fragmentation of the media itself and media executives playing catch up with the new trend. 

YouTube has also presented a platform for  Persons with disabilities to showcase themselves to the world and tell their stories themselves rather than letting others do the talking. Channels like Sitting Pretty by Lolo do a good job in telling positive disability narratives and trying to change disability attitudes among her audience. In the channel, the host talks about disability issues in a candid manner devoid of the carefully chosen words we see on mainstream platforms. Recently, Kenya took the crown as the country with the most YouTube channels in Africa with about 400,000 channels. The numbers seem impressive given the plethora of alternatives in the country. 

 

For a long time, the disability narrative in Kenya have been told by a third party which consciously or inadvertently pushes the pity party perception in the process. This has the opposite effect of entrenching the charity model in the society. For example, mainstream media is very quick to give stories about Persons with disabilities and their achievements but hardly give job opportunities to Persons with disabilities themselves. While this boosts the rating of the media involved, it only intensifies the pity perception of people with disabilities in the society, yet there are people with disabilities who have done media studies and are equal to the task. International media houses, which the Kenyan media likes to benchmark itself against, has media personnel with disabilities. 

The plastic menace in the world is rampant since there is poverty in the world and corporates involved encourage shipping of the waste as a means to empower developing countries yet, the very act of sending plastic waste to developing countries destroys those countries. Similarly, telling disability stories with an inspirational angle destroys how society perceives people with disabilities and the best way to change that is by employing them in the media for them to tell the stories themselves and encourage others to roll up their sleeves and work like everyone else. Catherine Kasavuli and Cynthia Nyamai, veterans in the media industry, have been cited by the present crop of media personalities as their inspiration in the sector. Why not employ Persons with disabilities in the media to unlock their potential and change the perception of disability employment as well?

 

In the meantime, methinks YouTube should start an initiative to encourage the starting and growth of YouTube disability channels in Kenya, or encompass it as a category in the Black Voices Fund. It does not only offer job opportunities to those who will run it ( should there be many) but it will also help to change disability attitudes and perceptions in the society in addition to improving media and information accessibility in the country. Let's tell our stories ourselves.

By

Brian Murithi Ndiritu