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Disability in the Media

As a proud Australian and lover of sports, I was thrilled to cheer two of our athletes to their maiden French Open titles recently – Women’s Singles Champion, Ashleigh Barty and Men’s Wheelchair Quad Singles & Doubles Champion, Dylan Alcott OAM.

Yes, Dylan actually took home TWO French Open titles this year having won the Doubles Final earlier in the tournament with partner – the man he eventually defeated in the Singles Final – David Wagner. Can you imagine that!

By now, Dylan has become a household name. He has three Paralympic Gold Medals for both tennis and wheelchair basketball and has won eight Grand Slam Singles titles so far (and three Doubles titles). In fact, he’s on track to match Australian tennis legend Rod Laver’s record of winning the calendar year Grand Slam. All that stands in his way is Wimbledon next month, the only Grand Slam that is missing from Dylan’s trophy cabinet.

Despite all of Dylan’s achievements, I was dismayed to find little mention of his French Open win over the weekend – the very FIRST wheelchair event held at the Grand Slam. But it was a completely different story for Ash.

Now, before I get into it, I should say by no means am I complaining about the amount of coverage Ash’s achievement received by the Australian media. Let’s not get into the debate of the coverage able-bodied, male sports get day-in-day-out...that’s a whole other blog! No, my hope is that all women’s sport receives this level of coverage! It’s fantastic!

No, my quarrel is simply with the LACK of coverage Dylan received in comparison. Both athletes represented our country proudly on the world stage, both were duly rewarded for the long hours of training, travelling and sacrifice they have put into mastering their craft. Both are incredible role models for everyday Australians.

And yet, there has been barely a whisper about Dylan. Unfortunately, I feels like a metaphor for what how people with a disability feel everyday; we can often feel dismissed.

A sport that I would LOVE to see more coverage (and not just during special events, like the Paralympics or Invictus Games) is Murderball. If you haven’t heard of Murderball, do yourself a favour and Google it right now.

Officially wheelchair rugby, Murderball is played in over 25 countries across the world with Australia the reigning Paralympic Champions (Rio 2016). It’s a ferocious game played at great pace, and the athletes are as tough as they come. I’m yet to meet someone who hasn’t watched a game and loved it – it’s hard not to be impressed when guys in wheelchairs are constantly hurtling into each other!

And yet, media coverage only happens for a couple weeks every four years during the Paralympic Games period.

Now, it’s not all the media’s fault. Sure, news and TV editors have the prerogative to decide what will and won’t be covered. But it’s a competition for eyeballs, therefore they have to provide what the general public wants to consume.

That means the demand comes from the people. Yep, from you guys. Vote with your eyes and the click of your mouse! Let media outlets know you want to see more celebration of people with a disability doing incredible things on the world stage in mainstream media.

Just like Ash Barty and other female athletes providing strong role models for young women to aspire to, people with a disability need role models too. They need to see people like them on TV, in newspapers and on radio so they don’t feel alone. That they too can achieve incredible things through hard work and dedication.

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