Disability Journalism Award – 2015 Winner is ProPublica on School Restraint

Arizona State University hosts the National Center for Disability Journalism, an excellent group doing important work. The NCDJ offers the only annual journalism award for Disability issues – the   Katherine Schneider Journalism Award for Excellence in Reporting on Disability – and have announced the 2015 winners.

A ProPublica story that uncovered the shocking ways children with intellectual disabilities are physically disciplined in schools across the country has won top honors in the 2015 Katherine Schneider Journalism Award for Excellence in Reporting on Disability…

ProPublica reporter Heather Vogell’s first-place story, “Violent and Legal: The Shocking Ways School Kids are Being Pinned Down, Isolated Against Their Will,” profiled Carson Luke, a young boy with autism, who sustained broken bones after educators grabbed him and tried to force him into a “scream room.” The story underscored the common practice of educators secluding and physically restraining uncooperative school children, sometimes with straps, handcuffs, bungee cords or even duct tape, documenting hundreds of thousands of cases a year.

The ProPublica story is, in my opinion, the most important piece of disability journalism of the year. It’s the kind of detailed, data-driven, investigative work that we so need, and it’s important that it be recognized by awards like this. I read it when it came out and will obviously be referring to its findings in my book, as it’s a terrible invocation of the cult of compliance.

I’m also very pleased with the Honorable Mention – on the legacy of Eugenics in North Carolina. This history isn’t known well enough and isn’t really in the past. Stories of forced sterilizations in prisons and other contexts keep emerging.

I am less thrilled with the second place winner on “Saving Evan.” It’s typical mom-vs-autism stuff. Moreover, the format – as you scroll pictures scroll up into your view and then away again – is extremely hard on my not-entirely-neurotypical visual processing centers of my brain. Maybe someone with better eye-brain connections can read it more closely and let me know what you think.

(Note: Of course I apply for this award. I don’t expect to get it. Properly, they have always given it to full-time journalists rather than people doing commentary like me. I’d vote for full-time journalists too!).

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