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Ukrainian media use inappropriate terms to refer to disabled people – IMI study

31.01.2024, 17:32

Ukrainian online media use inappropriate terminology to refer to people with disabilities, as evidenced by the IMI study "Disability and inclusivity, Ukraine style. How to fail the tolerance test".

The study shows that media outlets mostly bring up disability when writing about draft dodging, options for leaving the country or using a relative's disability to delay conscription. However, IMI experts note that such materials were written unethically and used inappropriate terminology.

"Besides mobilization being a sensitive topic, the media use the terms 'invalid', 'cripple' in their articles. Such terms are inadmissible, as they are degrading to human dignity and sound vaguely Soviet. Human rights activists recommend using the neutral term 'disabled person' in the media and in everyday life," says media analyst Yana Mashkova.

The IMI experts also noted that the media have been manipulating or exploiting the topic of disability. For instance, Ukrainian outlets have speculated about people without fingers, eyes, or internal organs possibly getting drafted under the new mobilization bill. They did specify that it was only a draft bill, but for some reason their assumptions and predictions did not take into account that the document could still be amended.

During the year and a half of the full-scale war, the number of disabled people has grown by approximately 300,000. Such figures were reported by the Minister of Social Policy, Oksana Zholnovych, who noted that there were already 3 million such people in Ukraine in September 2023. The Wall Street Journal has written that in just 17 months of the war, about 50,000 Ukrainians lost their limbs and needed prosthetics, according to the German prostheses manufacturer Ottobock.

"Such a large number of people with disabilities shows that Ukrainians are often injured during combat missions or by Russian shelling. Meanwhile, the task of the media is to report on vulnerable groups and people with disabilities as tolerantly as possible," says IMI analyst Yana Mashkova.

The Institute of Mass Information (IMI) is a public media organization that has been operating since 1995. The IMI defends the rights of journalists, analyzes the media field and covers media-related events, fights propaganda and disinformation and has been providing media outlets with safety gear for trips to the combat zone since the start of the Russo–Ukrainian war in 2014.

The IMI carries out Ukraine's only freedom of speech monitoring and keeps a list of high quality and sustainable online media outlets, documents Russia's crimes against the media committed in the course of the war on Ukraine. The IMI has representatives in 20 oblasts of Ukraine and a network of "Mediabaza" hubs to provide journalists with continuous support. The IMI's partners include Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House; the organization is a member of the International Organization for the Protection of Freedom of Expression (IFEX).

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