Adriana Pulido from Colombia studying at the University of Florida is one of 12 finalists for the International Student Voice Magazine scholarship. Read her essay here!
As a person with a disability coming from a developing country, I feel strongly committed to work for the full inclusion of people with disabilities not only in developing countries but around the world. In that sense, studying a master’s in Mass Communications (Journalism) in the United States has helped me understand how both old and new media can be used to promote a positive image of people with disabilities, which may in turn contribute to remove social prejudices and improve the quality of life of this population. Among other things, the media can be used to favor the inclusion of disability-related issues in the agenda-setting, so that policy makers promote affirmative actions that enable the full participation of individuals with disabilities in society.
Undoubtedly, the master’s in Mass Communications perfectly supplements my previous work on inclusion, as well as my previous experiences as a participant of an association for blind and visually impaired students in my country. As a member of the inclusive education working group at the national university of Colombia, I was exposed to a great deal of information about successful higher education processes for individuals with disabilities both in Europe and the United States. Thanks to this exposure, I was able to see how the adoption of educational acts both in the United States and in some European countries has contributed to create an accessible environment where people with disabilities can develop their full potential, whether as undergraduate or graduate students.
Participating in the association for blind and visually impaired students, on the other hand, let me have access to relevant information regarding the endorsement of national and international laws intended to protect the rights of people with disabilities. Since the master’s in Mass Communications has helped me better understand how media function, I will be able, as a professional journalist, to promote strategies that facilitate the dissemination of disability-related laws through old and new media, particularly the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Throughout the master’s, I have been exposed to a good deal of books and articles in which the authors analyze, and in some cases criticize how the media (television, print media, and advertising) have traditionally misrepresented or underrepresented minority groups such as Blacks, Hispanic, the elderly, the poor, sexual minorities, and people with disabilities. Understanding this relationship between the media and minority groups will let me critically analyze what should be done, so that the media promote a more positive portrayal of individuals with disabilities both in developed and developing countries.
I have also seen how social media, including mobile phones and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, are used to mobilize people, make social and political issues visible, and organize protest. Moreover, people with disabilities are increasingly using those media to make disability-related issues visible, particularly accessibility and discrimination. Understanding social media use will, therefore, let me propose strategies that strengthen an effective communication between the media, journalists, the government and disability organizations, in order to fight against discrimination and gradually remove social barriers. Those channels can also be used to provide journalists with first-hand information on how people with disabilities want to be portrayed in the media, and what their major issues are.
Finally, by understanding how media and society are related to one another, I will be able to take a leadership position in the Colombian media, which will enable me to promote a deep social change in favor of people with disabilities. Given that the media influence the way society people perceive minority groups, working from within would contribute to the gradual removal of negative attitudes against individuals with disabilities. The removal of those barriers will enable the disability community to fully participate in society by accessing education, ICTs, political participation, culture, entertainment and healthcare. My future job as a journalist, therefore, is expected to have a positive impact on the lives of nearly 3.00.000 people living with disabilities in Colombia and over one billion people around the world (UN, 2012).