Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Why doesn't NPR have a disability show?

photo of a radio microphone
I just realized something that surprised me. National Public Radio doesn't have a disability show.

The BBC has a regular disability show, and so does the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). They're close cousins to NPR in terms of content and mission, so why doesn't NPR have a disability show?

NPR does have Code Switch, which is not exactly a program but more of a team that produces radio stories, blog articles, and discussions on issues of race, ethnicity, and culture. Code Switch started about four months ago, and so far, their remit has not included disability. I really like their approach to what they do cover, and I really like the idea of a team producing stories that can run at any time, not just in a scheduled, separate show. This would have been especially helpful a few months ago when NPR explored the rise in the number of Americans on Social Security Disability Insurance. The weeklong series of stories was more thoughtful and substantive than I what just about any other news outlet would produce, but the lack of expertise on living with disabilities showed. Having a regular team to cover disability issues would have made the series even better.

Should the Code Switch team add disability coverage to it's slate? That would be the least disruptive to NPR's current structure, since Code Switch is already organized and running. Also, I'd much rather see disability categorized with race, ethnicity, and social identity issues than, say, health, the other main category disability tends to be dumped. However, I think I'd rather see them set up either a regular disability show, or a disability team along the lines of Code Switch, but separate from it, and as a distinct topic of its own. Maybe they could occasionally do crossovers and collaborations with Code Switch, as well as with their teams on economics and, okay, health care.

Why does this matter? Because while NPR can be annoying, pretentious, and easily mocked, it really is the go-to place for creative, in-depth journalism on any and all aspects of American life. I have more faith in NPR's ability to dig into disability issues than I do for just about any other news organization. They might even do better than some of the better disability studies programs and disability rights organizations, which do great work but aren't always … well … "accessible" to mainstream audiences.

Maybe it's time to petition NPR to do this.