On June 14 Georgia marked the day of rights of disabled people. To be more exact the disabled tried to draw attention to the problem which hinders their comprehensive integration into the society. Even this wish of the disabled persons, according to Rati Ionatamishvili, public relations officer, Coalition for Independent Life, the biggest union of the disabled, was restricted - the Georgian Public Broadcasting (GPB) didn't show any interest to their day.When and how does media get concerned about disabled persons? The response to the question is a kind of test to define how well the Fourth Estate understands the essence of equality. Much depends on it, starting from the formation of public opinion to changing the state policy. It is noteworthy that a comprehensive monitoring on the coverage of the disabled-related issues is in fact never conducted in Georgia. The only survey in this regard, particularly in print media, was carried out in 2005 by the Association for Invalid Women and Invalid Children's Mothers within the framework of the Ombudsman in the Disability Field project. According to the Coalition for Independent Life staff the picture actually remains unchanged. Hence the issues of concern five years ago are still of high importance.
According to the survey the following result was observed: the tone of articles published about the disabled is negative in most of the cases: The terms such as legless, dullard, lame, cripple, wretched etc are incorrectly applied; The disabled people are presented as a poor, miserable, hero or martyr instead of being ordinary, they are seldom portrayed as normal people. The articles about the disabled cover the projects implemented for them by governmental and non-governmental organizations.
Conventionally the publications about the disabled are divided into the following categories: informational; charity articles - featuring the disabled as an object for charity and clemency; sarcastic articles applying the terms such as invalid, legless, moron, madman for insulting; Articles featuring disability as heroism this is to say the disabled are portrayed as heroes; tragic-sentimental; Thank-you letters. In the course of the survey no material was found featuring the disabled as normal people with equal responsibilities and duties, emphasizing their disability only in case of utmost necessity.
Despite the fact that Coalition for Independent Life regards newly-established Liberal magazine a bright spot as far as covering of their activities is concerned, their common demand towards the media remains the same: underline correct angles. This concerns the attitudes that generally exist in connection with handicapped people. There are two attitudes: medical and social. The first one underlines the physical and mental problems of the handicapped person; the second one underlines the barriers that prevent such a person from being fully involved in the public life.
When media stresses the medical angle it takes a risk of sidetracking the public, for example when discussing a person who has movement issues and whose curing is ruled out by the doctors.
At one glance that person as well as the society must resign to his fate and observe the life from the window of his house. But if we look at that issue from the social angle and if we say that this person as well as many others can independently move around if there's corresponding infrastructure in place then we'll receive a completely different result. If such an attitude is used then media will create the way that will enable that person and the whole society to live in an equal environment. This way it becomes clear that being handicapped is not a diagnosis, it's a social problem and it's the obligation of the state to resolve that problem.
Representatives of Coalition for Independent Life state that being handicapped is the unity of existing infrastructure, public opinion and state institutions under which a person who has some physical and mental problems does not have equal conditions with other people; that disability is a social issue that exists beyond a person and affects people; that disability is degradation of the quality of one's independence. That is the issue, which is stressed by social attitude used towards issues concerning disabled persons.
As for the terms used in connection with the handicapped people in the media: there is no final agreement on the terms that must be used in connection with the handicapped people in the world yet; However, there are certain word combinations that are not considered offensive, on the contrary. For example:
A handicapped person - is a disabled person who's deprived of equal opportunities in a social environment (instead of using words like: a sick person, cripple, maimed, deficient, deformed, imperfect, defective, shortsighted etc.);
Non-handicapped or a person without disability - an ordinary, typical person (instead of using words like: normal, healthy when comparing such a person with a handicapped person);
Person with equal opportunities of movement, who uses a wheelchair (instead of using the following word combination: chained to a wheelchair);
Inherent disability, handicapped since childhood (rather than saying: inherent defect, calamity etc.);
The person has children's cerebral palsy etc. (instead of saying: he's suffering from children's cerebral palsy);
The person has had poliomyelitis; he has disability as a result of poliomyelitis; a person who had a sickness, became disabled as a result of... (instead of saying: he's suffering from poliomyelitis, or results of poliomyelitis; a victim of poliomyelitis);
Mentally challenged person - only in relation to adults (instead of saying retarded, mentally imperfect etc. );
Child with impeded development; child who grasps slowly, person with impeded development (instead of saying: retarded, mentally weak, imbecile, a Down etc.)
Person with a Down syndrome, child with a Down syndrome (instead of saying: a Down, mongoloid etc.);
Person with epilepsy; people who have epileptic fits (instead of saying: epileptic);
Mentally ill persons, persons with psychiatric problems, persons with mental or emotional disorders (instead of saying: crazy, psycho etc.);
Blind, sightless, person with weak eyesight, deaf, person with weak hearing (instead of saying: blind as a mole, absolutely blind, deaf and dumb etc.);
Person who has difficulties in verbal interaction, person who has speech problems (instead of saying: dumb, tongue-tied etc.).
We're talking about the people who make up an important part of our society. According to the data of World Health Organization, 600 million people have various types of disabilities in the world, 236,280 of them are residents of Georgia. As the international data indicate, 80 percent of disabled persons live in less developed and lower income countries. Most of them are poor and deprived of employment, education and rehabilitation opportunities. Therefore, on December 20, 1993 48th session of General Assembly of United Nations passed The Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (resolution 48/96). The main goal of 22 rules listed in that document is to provide the handicapped people with the same rights and responsibilities as other members of society.
Access, education, employment, provision with incomes and social welfare, family life and personal freedom, culture, leisure and sport, religion etc. - these are the spheres in which, according to the document, the handicapped persons should enjoy equal opportunities. Problems in that regard as especially acutely felt in countries in transit. Georgia is among such countries and correspondingly, handicapped people have to deal with a lot of barriers here. Society must be their partner in overcoming these problems and media should be their ally in that matter.