Open letter to Canberra Times regarding portrayal of people with disability in the media

Dear Mr Quinn

Each time that I read an article in the Canberra Times where a person is referred to as “wheelchair bound” or a “hero” because they have a disability, or that a person with a disability is a “victim” of a particular condition, I think to myself that I should contact you to discuss ways in which our local media can assist to improve the lives of people with disabilities by considering the ways in which it reports stories about them.

Having recently had my attention drawn to the attached guidelines issued by the Department of Human Services in Victoria, I am now taking the opportunity to do exactly that.

I commend the guidelines to you and would be happy to discuss them with you or any of your journalists. I would like to request that you distribute this link to all Canberra Times journalists and ask them to please read them. It will only take a little time to do so, yet the benefits can be significant. In my view, adopting the changes suggested in the guidelines has the potential to see the Canberra Times as a leader in its field in providing thoughtful and balanced reporting about people with disabilities.

In writing this letter, I am in no way criticising your journalists or the Canberra Times. Generally people will be unaware that the language they use can be perpetuating stereotypes and it just takes a different perspective to be drawn to their attention for the “penny to drop”! It may be that such information could be included in any styleguide that you use in your organisation. As noted above, I am happy to discuss this request further with you and I am happy to work with you to progress this matter.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Mary Durkin
Disability and Community Services Commissioner
ACT Human Rights Commission