November 13, 2023 (Updated on November 14, 2023)

I surveyed this year’s disability coverage in student newspapers across the top 100 universities (according to US News 2024 rankings). Let’s get right into the results.

MOST DISABILITY COVERAGE

The Daily Princetonian,
Princeton University

This year, The Daily Princetonian wrote the most articles on disability-related topics, publishing a total of 22 articles between January 1 and October 31, 2023, which was the time frame for this survey. Twelve of the twenty-two articles published in The Daily Princetonian were part of a special March issue for Disability Awareness Month, but each article deserves recognition in its own right. The newspaper with the second highest amount of disability coverage was The Daily Texan, the student newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin, with 15 articles.

The top ten student newspapers with the most disability coverage are listed in the table below. You can access the entire dataset for the survey here.

OVERALL BEST DISABILITY COVERAGE

The Daily Princetonian,
Princeton University

The Daily Princetonian’s copious disability coverage was matched by their quality reporting on a diverse array of topics, including a critical and personal examination of allyship with the disabled community, a student’s account of his journey to autism diagnosis and advocacy, a Princeton graduate’s reflections on the ableism she experienced, and an illuminating accessibility audit of the entire campus. Princeton was the only campus surveyed this year that conducted an accessibility audit. Students at The George Washington University conducted an accessibility audit of their campus in 2020, which reportedly took four months to complete. It’s a huge undertaking that many administrations would shamelessly offload to disabled students.

HONORABLE MENTION

A close second to The Daily Princetonian was the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s student newspaper, which published the third highest number of disability-related articles this year (14 total) and also featured quality writing including a call for sensory-friendly spaces on campus for neurodivergent students, and a cogent argument against punitive responses to students struggling with sobriety.

BEST FEATURE ARTICLE

‘Fighting the Same Fight’: Disabled Students Unite for Justice
By John Lin and Dina R. Zeldin
The Harvard Crimson,
Harvard University

A meticulously researched article that seamlessly weaves disabled students’ experiences from past and present. Despite documenting some egregious problems at Harvard, it’s ultimately a hopeful and optimistic narrative of things getting better.

The article also features some great quotes from students, including the important insight that “accommodations should not seek to replicate the experience of an able-bodied student but rather be tailored toward the individual student’s needs.”

BEST NEWS ARTICLE

No body or mind left behind’: The 32-hour fight for accessibility at UNC
By Liv Reilly and Elizabeth Egan
The Daily Tar Heel,
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

With this piece, the authors have created an engrossing chronological document of two student-activists who disrupt campus to bring attention to pervasive accessibility issues at UNC. As the authors note, inaccessibility is more than an inconvenience for disabled students. Last year, the two students were stuck in the dorms for 32 hours when the elevator stopped working.

BEST OP-ED

Ableism, inaccessibility prevail in field of journalism
By Elise Fjelstad
The Badger Herald,
University of Wisconsin

A must-read essay for all student journalists covering disability. The author has excellent tips for how to (and how not to) write about disability.

BEST COLUMN

Chronically Catherine
By Catherine Ames
Daily Trojan,
University of Southern California

The author shares insights on her journey from internalized ableism to loud and proudly disabled.

BEST QUOTE

“You should never underestimate the power of an angry person who hyperfixates and has too much time on their hands.” (Autistic student at University of Pittsburgh)

KEY FINDINGS

There was no correlation between US News rank and the number of articles published by a newspaper (tau = -0.24, p < 0.05). There was no correlation between the size of the university, i.e. number of undergraduate students enrolled, and the number of articles published by its newspaper (r = 0.21, p < 0.05).

Across all 98 universities analyzed in this sample, the highest number of articles published by a single student newspaper this year was 22 (Princeton University) and the minimum was zero. Nineteen universities published zero disability-related articles this year. The mean number of articles published across all universities surveyed was 3.2 and the median was 2. For private universities, the mean number of articles published this year was 2.8 and the median was 2. For public universities, the mean number of articles published was 3.7 and the median was 3.

The eight “tech schools,” including MIT and Caltech, collectively had the worst performance with a mean of 0.9 articles published on disability-related topics and a median of one. The highest number of disability-related articles was three, published by The Stute, the student newspaper of Stevens Institute of Technology. Are there less disabled students at these campuses? That doesn’t seem to be the case. At Caltech, for instance, about 25% of the community is registered with Accessibility Services.

Chart description: A bar plot showing the number of disability-related articles published by month. The greatest number of disability-related articles was published in March.

In sum, 317 disability-related articles were published between January 1 and October 31, 2023. The most common topics were accessibility (47 articles) and advocacy (39 articles), not surprisingly. In the following table, I break down the frequency of all the topics that were covered this year. However, because of subjectivity and ambiguity of categorization, and because categorization necessarily entails reduction, I recommend browsing the full dataset to get a better picture of the broad scope of topics actually covered.

INTERPRETING THE RESULTS

Because accessibility was the most commonly covered topic, it’s reasonable to conclude that inaccessibility remains the most pressing issue for disabled students on college campuses. But can we also conclude that newspapers that published less than the average number of disability-related stories this year have less accessibility issues on their campuses? What about newspapers that published zero stories?

I would caution in concluding much else from this survey about accessibility or disability representation regarding particular campuses as the mere quantity of articles published may not be a reliable indicator. We would need to conduct more qualitative analyses to uncover the relationships between disability coverage, e.g. positive and negative coverage, and campus climate. In terms of disability representation, for example, a future study could create a metric for the amount of contributors who self-identify as disabled.

RECOMMENDATIONS

If your newspaper published less than the mean number of disability-related articles this year, here are some ideas to consider for stories for next semester:

It would also be a good thing if more writers started grappling with the history of disability justice, which was conceived to center the struggles and voices of disabled Black people and Indigenous people. What does it mean for disability justice to be invoked inside institutions that concentrate great power and privilege, and continue to exclude the most marginalized?

METHODOLOGY

As part of conducting this review, I had to make decisions about what to include and deliberately exclude. Using the US News 2024 rankings was an arbitrary choice based on convenience sampling. Selecting the top 100 universities for my sample size was similarly determined by time and resource constraints.

The top 98 ranked institutions gave me a sample size of 104 universities. Six of the universities in the top 98 were dropped for having currently inactive campus newspapers or newspapers with very limited output, reducing the sample size to 98 universities. In addition to rank, I collected information about a university’s public or private designation and undergraduate enrollment from the US News website.

For each student newspaper, I searched for articles using the site’s search tool or, if that wasn’t available, using Google’s “site:” search function. I searched for articles using only two search terms: “disabled” or “disability.” Many disability-related articles, especially concerning mental health, were likely excluded from the search results for this reason, but this was part of a deliberate decision to include only the most explicitly disability-centered articles.

I included articles published between January 1, 2023 and October 31, 2023 that featured substantial content about disability or disabled students, and had more than just a passing reference to disability. During this stage, I did not judge articles for their quality, though I deliberately excluded articles that reinforced notions of disabled people as objects, whether objects to be used for inspiration or objects to be used for research or career advancement. I excluded articles covering guest speaker events that didn’t feature work by members of the university community or charity events that weren’t led by disabled people or didn’t serve disabled students on campus. I excluded articles not pertaining to the campus specifically, or that didn’t center disabled students’ or faculties’ experiences and perspectives even if the articles covered important and worthwhile causes on campus.

Because writers may choose not to disclose, I generally included opinion pieces concerning disability or advocating for disabled people, even if the writer didn’t identify as disabled.

Unfortunately, I did not count the number of articles that I ended up excluding, but I would guess that I ended up excluding 1/4 to 1/2 of the articles that I read.

The mere inclusion of any article in the full dataset doesn’t imply an endorsement or suggest any opinion of its content.

CONCLUSION

Disability news coverage must improve on all campuses to improve representation and inclusion of disabled students independently of how well administrations are responding to accessibility issues. Invisibility of any marginalized group tends to indicate accessibility issues in a space.

Next year’s survey may include more qualitative analysis of disability coverage. For example, I would like to compare the number of stories published about disabled people to the number of stories that actually center disabled people’s voices. Next year I would also like to organize a selection committee to judge the best articles of 2024, and also hope to include a larger sample of student newspapers to review.


Like it? Share with your friends!