By Mark Gould
Local newspapers are way ahead of the nationals in presenting positive stories about people with learning disabilities, and they steer clear of patronising clichés, according to a survey.
The survey, conducted by learning disability charity Mencap, reveals that local papers featured 10,000 stories about people with learning disabilities compared with just 561 in national newspapers in 2004. National coverage was weighted towards medical issues or conditions such as Down’s Syndrome or autism. Around a quarter of all the learning difficulties stories in the nationals focused on the row over links between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism. National TV and radio fared even worse with just 102 programmes in two years.
The survey was carried out by Learning Disability Media — a charity that promotes people with learning disabilities in the media. CEO Marion Janner said she was pleased that coverage avoided such condescending clichés as "brave sufferer" or "tragic handicap victim". She said stories in the regionals tended to be more about "talented youngsters" and that picture captions were also "very positive".
But Janner said journalists still confuse learning disability with mental illness. "People with learning difficulties don’t want to be thought of as people with mental health problems, and vice versa. To make things worse, people with mental health problems are often portrayed in the media as violent.
By extension, people with learning difficulties get unfairly labelled in the same way."