ADA Anniversary: How it changed the media landscape

Story by Mark Boatman, photos by Gracie Ryan

It Would Be a stretch to say that, over the past 25 years, the Americans with Disabilities Act significantly changed the media landscape. But has it at least become easier for a journalist with a disability to graduate with a journalism degree and find a job?

Nearly one in five Americans, or 56.7 million people, have some form of a disability. Yet while women and ethnic minorities changed the face of journalism in recent decades, people with significant disabilities continue to remain invisible from much of the “mainstream media.”

When I enrolled in the University of Montana’s School of Journalism in 2010, I didn’t have a single classmate with any kind of physical disability. I didn’t dwell on this because I knew I had the skills needed for a job within the realm of journalism. Graduation soon came, and I wondered where to apply the professional skills I had learned. An editor from New Mobility, one of the largest disability-related magazines in the country, offered me a news-and-freelance position. I accepted, and for the last two years, have used my journalistic skills to inform many people with disabilities about stories that affect their lives.

Journalism is an ever-changing profession that needs many diverse storytellers, including people with disabilities. We are the largest minority in the country, but the most underrepresented group in the news industry. Hiring journalists with disabilities not only helps stories about the disability experience to be told better but also brings fresh perspectives into newsrooms, which isn’t a bad thing. Not bad at all.

Boatman’s tools in the field

Audio Voice Recorder

When I’m out in the field or in a noisier environment, my digital voice recorder is handy for catching interviews on the go. Many of today’s recorders can be plugged into any USB port for quick and easy download of any interview.


Skype has been a useful tool in conducting and recording a majority of my phone interviews. Having an audio copy of an interview is valuable when you need to write down a complete quote.

SmartNav by NaturalPoint

My SmartNav head-operated mouse uses an infrared camera to track my head movements through a reflective dot worn on my nose. I control individual mouse clicks with a button that I click with my right thumb and index finger.

Conceptus Bite Switch

I use a Nikon DSLR camera with a tripod, but I needed to figure out how to independently operate the shutter. This bite switch was devised by skydiving photographers for taking photos in high-altitude environments, and it allows me to quickly take pictures without assistance.