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KPFA reaches out to disabled community

By Daniela Mohor Daily Planet Staff ff
Monday August 20, 2001

Members of the disabled community discussed ways to improve KPFA’s coverage of disability issues at a special meeting organized by the public radio station on Saturday afternoon. 

The meeting, which took place at the North Berkeley Senior Center, was the 10th of a series of gatherings designed to help KPFA’s first elected Local Advisory Board assess the needs of the community it serves. Unlike previous meetings, Saturday’s event was specifically designed to get input from the disabled community on the station’s programming. For Berkeley’s disabled people, this was the first opportunity in years to express their wish to hear specific issues that affect them on the radio. 

“Our stories, our struggles are not reported on mainstream media,” said Gerlinde Busch, one of the organizers, who is also blind. “These stories, like the inaccessibility of the built environment, are the stories of our daily life.” 

Like Busch, most of the approximately 50 people who attended – there were KPFA staff members with and without disabilities, Berkeley activists and disabled listeners from San Francisco – felt that KPFA gives little space in its programming to the challenges they face everyday. Unemployment, the need for affordable housing and health care, for instance, are critical issues they would like to be systematically covered. 

But more than anything, the attendees said they wanted KPFA to reflect the diversity of their community. 

“We are different, we are a diverse community and our issues are influenced by what else we are, if we are woman or man, our race and other things we are,” said Busch, during a short presentation on disabled issues. “There are many issues covering our own life experience.” 

One of the disabled community’s main concerns, some said, is to have the media include all kinds of disabilities in its coverage. While some disabilities are visible, others are not, they said. For those who suffer from emotional or mental disabilities, for instance, the struggle for their rights can be particularly hard. 

“All the listed issues around disability are great, but a lot of times there are other issues that are silent when it comes to people with psychiatric disabilities,” said Carol Patterson from the Independent Living resource center in San Francisco. “For a lot of us, the issue is having services available that we can access. People get turned away because their issues are not serious enough.”  

People with psychiatric disabilities, she added, must be suicidal or show they have a severe disability to be taken into consideration. 

Social exclusion was another issue raised at the meeting.  

To Bienestar Davis, a former teacher and social worker who recently lost her vision, there are still many prejudices against disabled people. Most of the time, she said, visually impaired people get jobs working with other blind individuals. Therefore, they do not manage to fully integrate into mainstream society. 

“Because we happen to be blind doesn’t mean that we have to work only with the blind,” she said. “The more we expose the whole society [to] who we are and what we do, the more we will be able to break down those barriers.” 

After receiving comments from the public, KPFA staff members submitted proposed solutions to the audience, who gathered in small discussion groups. 

Among other things, the station plans to initiate a weekly program that addresses disability and to insure that disability issues will be integrated into other general programs. KPFA also offered to train its staff members on disability awareness and to secure at least one candidate with disabilities for the next Local Advisory Board election in October. 

KPFA Community Needs Assessment Committee will hold another meeting next Saturday in Richmond. So far, the radio station has heard from communities in Petaluma, Sacramento and San Jose, among others. It has also sent letters asking for feedback on its programming to 23,000 listeners. At this time, the committee has received about 1,600 responses. The information gathered will create a report to be used for programming changes. There is currently no scheduled time frame for those changes.