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A major investigation by NPR into the hidden epidemic of sexual violence against people with intellectual disabilities won the top honor in the Ruderman Foundation Awards for Excellence in Reporting on Disability.
Established by the Ruderman Family Foundation, the competition is the only journalism contest devoted exclusively to recognizing excellence in the coverage of people with disabilities and disability issues. The program is administered by the National Center on Disability and Journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
In addition to NPR, the contest, which includes the Katherine Schneider Medal, recognized journalists from eight organizations, including The Dallas Morning News, ProPublica Illinois, WNYC, Kaiser Health News, KING-TV, Better Government Association/WBEZ and New Mobility.
In “Abuse and Betrayed,” NPR’s special investigations unit – Joseph Shapiro, Robert Little, and Meg Anderson – spent a year reporting on sexual assaults against people with intellectual disabilities. The reporters found people with intellectual disabilities are seven times more likely to be sexually assaulted than people without disabilities, according to previously undisclosed government numbers. The series took first place and a $10,000 prize in the Ruderman Foundation Awards.
“Among a collection of many excellent contenders, this entry stood out head and shoulders,” judges said in their comments. “NPR devoted thorough, sensitive reporting on a long-overlooked issue and people who often are unable to say #MeToo for themselves.”
The NCDJ awarded second place and a $2,500 prize to The Dallas Morning News for “Pain and Profit,” third place and a $1,000 prize to ProPublica Illinois for “Stuck Kids” and an honorable mention and a $500 prize to WNYC for “Aftereffect.”
As part of the Ruderman Foundation Awards for Excellence in Reporting on Disability, the NCDJ awarded the Katherine Schneider Medal, recognizing local and regional news organizations in their efforts to report on people with disabilities and disability issues.
Kaiser Health News took the first place Katherine Schneider Medal and a $5,000 award for Senior Correspondent Christina Jewett’s investigation “Nowhere to Go: Young People With Severe Autism Languish in Hospitals.” The report revealed how teenagers and young adults with autism are spending weeks or even months in emergency rooms and acute-care hospitals, sometimes sedated, restrained, or confined to mesh-tented beds. Judges called the investigation, “comprehensive, angering and heartbreaking.”
“The atrocities exposed by Christina Jewett in ‘Nowhere to Go’ are horrifying, inhumane and outright nauseating,” the judges said. “Reporting such as this should prompt policymakers at all levels of government to address this situation urgently. It is necessary to build supports for in-home care as well as humane external respite and resources.”
In the Schneider Medal contest, the NCDJ awarded second place and a $1,500 prize to KING-TV in Seattle for “Back of the Class: Lack of Inclusion,” third place and a $500 prize to the Better Government Association/WBEZ for “Trapped” and an honorable mention and a $250 prize to New Mobility for “Flying the Unfriendly Skies.”
The Ruderman Family Awards will be presented in a fall ceremony in Washington, D.C., featuring a keynote address on disability journalism as well as a workshop for journalists on how to improve disability coverage.
“Twenty percent of our population has a disability, and people with disabilities comprise the largest minority in our nation and in the world,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “Unfortunately, the media often ignores the disability narrative or infuses it with pity and condescending language. This award recognizes excellence in disability reporting, in order to ignite accurate and essential public conversations about disability, inclusion, civil rights, and social justice.”
In “Pain and Profit,” the second-place Ruderman Award winner, Dallas Morning News reporters J. David McSwane and Andrew Chavez exposed the systemic denials of care and other abuses by companies paid to administer Medicaid, the government insurance program for poor and disabled people. Judges said, “Painstaking, careful reporting drove this story to the top of the list. The reporting combined compellingly, sensitively told personal stories with the policy issues at hand.”
The third-place Ruderman Award winning story, “Stuck Kids,” uncovered how hundreds of Illinois children languish in psychiatric hospitals after they are cleared for release. The investigation by ProPublica Illinois’ Duaa Eldeib, Sandhya Kambhampati, and Vignesh Ramachandran, found that between 2015 and 2017, 21 percent of the total time Department of Children and Family Services youths spent in psychiatric hospitals was not medically necessary.
The honorable mention winner, “Aftereffect” by WNYC’s Audrey Quinn, Aneri Pattani and Phoebe Wang, tells the story of a 2016 police shooting that upended the life of an autistic man and the hidden world of psych wards, physical abuse, and chemical restraints.
The judges for the Ruderman Award contest were Ryan Gabrielson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for ProPublica, Leon Dash a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who is now a professor of journalism at the University of Illinois, Sara Just, executive producer of PBS NewsHour, and Jennifer Longdon, a disability advocate, and author.
In “Back of the Class: Lack of Inclusion,” the second-place Schneider Medal winner, KING-TV investigative reporter Susannah Frame uncovered Washington’s poor track record of helping students with disabilities.
In “Trapped,” the third-place Schneider Medal winner, Better Government Association investigator Alejandra Cancino produced an in-depth series explaining how neglected elevators put Chicago’s public housing residents at risk.
In the honorable mention story, “Flying the Unfriendly Skies,” New Mobility reporter Kenny Salvini shares his personal experiences with airlines and how they treat people with disabilities.
The judges for the Schneider Medal contest were Andy Becker, news director for NPR member station KUER; Kerry Gibson, president of EcoCentury Technologies; Jennifer LaFleur, data editor for American University Investigative Reporting Workshop; and Amy Silverman, a Phoenix-based writer, editor and teacher.
The Katherine Schneider Medal continues the work of Katherine Schneider who launched the first NCDJ awards program in 2013. Schneider, a retired clinical psychologist who has been blind since birth and who also supports the national Schneider Family Book Awards.
The Ruderman Family Foundation believes that inclusion and understanding of all people is essential to a fair and flourishing community and imposes these values within its leadership and funding.
About the National Center for National Center on Disability and Journalism
Headquartered at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the National Center for National Center on Disability and Journalism provides support and guidance for journalists as they cover people with disabilities. The organization provides resources including an in-depth style guide with suggestions on appropriate language and short descriptions of disability-related terms. http://ncdj.org.