Disability Rights on the Public Agenda: Elite News Media Coverage of The Americans With Disabilities Act


Author/Creator ORCID




Towson University, Department of Mass Communication and Communication Studies


Citation of Original Publication

Haller, Beth A. Disability Rights on the Public Agenda: Elite News Media Coverage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Temple University, Ann Arbor, 1995.



This dissertation undertook a content analysis of U.S. elite newspapers and the three major news magazines (N=524), news photographs (N=171), and TV network news (N =24) to understand how the news media presented the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act The Act embodies a new civil rights issue that sharply contrasts with stereotypes and myths about people with disabilities Therefore, this study could assess how the news media juxtapose the newer disability rights perspective relative to older stereotypes of the disability experience and competing perspectives such as U S business interests. This study also assists in the understanding of the news media role in characterizing a new issue on the public's agenda. The findings show that the elite media covered the ADA in the obligatory way it has covered much major federal legislation. Only rarely did media further contextualize and expand ADA information. The coverage of the ADA illustrates that the notion of disability rights is only making a moderate amount of headway into news media representations. However, when they did do stories, the news media did a good Job of casting the ADA as a civil rights act. But they also presented the norms of U.S. society and the business community by looking often at the upfront cost of the Act, as opposed to long-term cost savings the Act might provide. But the news media misrepresented disability in incidence, race, and gender They sought out the visible disabilities as examples and missed the fact that more people have hidden disabilities. They portrayed disability in terms of the white middle class, which reflects the primary composition of the disability rights movement. The nature of the ADA story, however, did not allow the media to use the traditional stereotypes, which present people with disabilities as medical problems or as superhuman. The media accepted a progressive frame of minority group status for people with disabilities because the federal government gave it to them. And because the governmental rhetoric had been fashioned by activists from the disability community, the message of civil rights for people with disabilities flowed through the media.