AEJMC Archives

AEJMC Archives


View:

Next Message | Previous Message
Next in Topic | Previous in Topic
Next by Same Author | Previous by Same Author
Chronologically | Most Recent First
Proportional Font | Monospaced Font

Options:

Join or Leave AEJMC
Reply | Post New Message
Search Archives


Subject: AEJ 96 HallerB MME Kaleidoscope: America's disability channel
From: Elliott Parker <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:AEJMC Conference Papers <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 12 Dec 1996 06:40:57 EST
Content-Type:text/plain
Parts/Attachments:
Parts/Attachments

text/plain (624 lines)


          TRUE CABLE ACCESS?
          KALEIDOSCOPE: AMERICA'S DISABILITY CHANNEL
 
          Beth Haller, Ph.D.
          Assistant Professor of Humanities and Communications
          Humanities Division
          Penn State Harrisburg
          777 W. Harrisburg Pike
          Middletown, PA 17057
 
          Phone: 717-948-6203
          Email: [log in to unmask]
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
          Paper submitted to the Media Management and Economics Division,
          Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication,
          for 1996 annual meeting, Anaheim, CA.
 
 
          TRUE CABLE ACCESS?
          KALEIDOSCOPE: AMERICA'S DISABILITY CHANNEL
 
          Beth Haller, Ph.D.
          Assistant Professor of Humanities and Communications
          Humanities Division
          Penn State Harrisburg
          777 W. Harrisburg Pike
          Middletown, PA 17057
 
          Phone: 717-948-6203
          Email: [log in to unmask]
 
          Abstract
                The new cable network, Kaleidoscope, bills itself as the world's
first channel for people with disabilities. The channel, based in San Antonio,
focuses on being a fully accessible channel through open caption, sign language
interpretation, and audio description. It also tries to include content that
portrays people in a less stereotyping fashion. Through its connections to a
host of disability-related organizations, the channel generates original
programs on specific disabilities.
                This study of the cable channel is based on depth interviews in
November 1995 with the chief executive officer and the marketing director of
Kaleidoscope. This paper explores how the demographic category of disability is
used as a economic tool for the network. It looks at how the channel balances a
medical model approach with a more empowering consumer-oriented approach in its
programming. How do economic factors perpetuate negative or positive images of
disability? This question is explored through the findings in the interviews and
reviews of channel content.
          TRUE CABLE ACCESS?
          KALEIDOSCOPE: AMERICA'S DISABILITY CHANNEL
 
                The cable channel Kaleidoscope bills itself as the world's first
channel for people with disabilities. The channel, based in San Antonio, Texas,
focuses on being a fully accessible channel through open caption, sign language
interpretation, and audio description. It also tries to include content that
portrays people in a less stereotyping fashion. Through its connections to a
host of disability-related organizations, the channel generates original
programs on specific disabilities.
                This study of the cable channel is based on depth interviews in
November 1995 with the chief executive officer and the marketing director of
Kaleidoscope. This paper explores how the demographic category of disability is
used as a marketing and advertising tool for the channel. It looks at how the
channel balances a medical model approach with a more empowering
consumer-oriented approach in its programming. How can the channel market itself
to the diverse disability community and the general public within its stated
framework of objectivity? How do economic factors influence the elimination of
negative stereotypes about disability in the development and marketing of the
channel? How do economic factors perpetuate negative stereotypes of disability?
These questions are explored through the findings in the interviews and reviews
of channel content.
 
          THE HISTORY OF THE NETWORK
                Bill Nichols, president of Kaleidoscope TV, says the focus of the
network connects to the empowerment of more people with disabilities in the
1990s. Kaleidoscope's philosophy is that people with disabilities have been an
underserved market in the United States. In addition, the enacting of the
Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 gave the disability demographic category
more visibility in the business community and the political community of a
market that was already there, he said.
                The channel began when investors in San Antonio, Texas, bought The
Silent Network, a channel for deaf and hard of hearing people, in May 1990. As
the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in July 1990, America's
Disability Channel was also launched to incorporate The Silent Network
programming and expand its focus to the whole range of disabilities. In April
1995, the channel expanded to 24-hour-a-day programming.
                Nichols says his interest in disability stemmed from a serious back
injury, for which he underwent rehabilitation therapy for two years (Gable,
1995). A former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary philosophy professor,
Nichols had been working in the cable industry for about 13 years when he
decided disability would be a perfect market for a television network. With
government estimates of 49 million people with disabilities and the additional
focus of their families, Nichols decided to segment the network's market based
on various disease, illness, or injury categories. Most of these categories are
also represented by long-standing organizations such as the American Lung
Association or the American Heart Association.
                "So we spent a lot of money and about three years developing our
national advisory board and so philosophically I'd say the network is reaching a
major part of this country," Nichols explained. The National Advisory Board is
composed of the executive officers of more than 100 national health care and
disability-related organizations. The network also has a Congressional Advisory
Board with 12 Congressional leaders such as Sen. Bob Dole and Sen. Tom Harkin.
By tying the network to existing disability organizations, as well as people
with disabilities and their families, Nichols estimates the network has a market
of 80 million people. "Probably about one-third of the population of this
country either has a disability, chronic illness or has a family member with
one. And when you start thinking about that and you start thinking about the
organizations that serve all of those people, you've got a big chunk of the
country," Nichols says. "You're not only serving the people; you're serving the
organizations who serve the people."
                Nichols explains that the network is just beginning to flesh out its
vision of linking with disability organizations for programming and expects it
will take another 5 years to get all organizations doing programming. The
ultimate goal of the network is building local advisory boards in every cable
market that can do local programming, local promotion and local marketing to
enrich the disability-related organization. The network has built into its
programming the availability for local public service announcements, local
commercials and local programming for every organization. "I think that is one
of the real strengths of the network," Nichols says.
                The problem with disability as a cable market appeared early. The
disability community is very segmented and may not even identify with the
concept of having a legally defined disability. "We began quickly to see that
the majority of the associations and organizations that we worked with really
don't perceive themselves as being part of the disability community," Nichols
said. "For instance, somebody like American Diabetes (Foundation) or Juvenile
Diabetes (Foundation), the American Lung Association that deals with asthma and
other respiratory problems -- a small percentage of those organizations have
people who are classified as disabled from the government standpoint." So the
network began to re-think its own name. The title America's Disability Channel
didn't fit the overall focus of the network and many organizations involved so
network executives have begun what Nichols calls an evolutionary process to
change the name solely to Kaleidoscope. He wants the name Kaleidoscope to become
"a household brand" for programming on illness, disability, and health care. "So
if you happen to have diabetes, you might want to look at this channel not
because you are part of the disability community, but because you can get some
real quality health care information. And that's what we're doing," Nichols
said.
 
          GETTING ADVERTISERS ON BOARD
                A strong advertising base is the lifeblood of keeping a cable channel
viable. Marketing Director Joe Cayton explains his goals in securing advertisers
for Kaleidoscope. He identifies three kinds of companies that are currently
advertising on the channel. First are companies that have products designed
specifically for people with disabilities, he said. For example, wheelchair
manufacturers, independent living aids, computer keyboards, and computer
software are just a few of the product types advertised on the channel.
                Another kind of company that advertises on the channel doesn't
specifically manufacture disability products, but they manufacture products that
have a broad spectrum use, Cayton said. Products such as Campbell's soup, Clorox
bleach, Pace picante sauce, and Chevrolet trucks fall into this category. And
the third type of advertiser creates dual products -- those for the general
public and those adapted for people with disabilities. Cayton gives the example
of General Motors. "They have the cars that everybody drives and they also have
what they call a mobility program where they reimburse the buyer a certain
amount of money. . . to allow the buyer to adapt that vehicle for their own
personal use, hand controls, scooter lifts, things like that," he explained.
General Motors also manufactures a van that is already accessible and can be
bought straight from the factory. Currently, Kaleidoscope's biggest sponsors are
ATT, Hallmark cards, Mattel toys, and Southwest Airlines. General Motors and
Clorox products are also frequent sponsors.
                In selling time on the channel to advertisers, Cayton says he follows
the current trend of linking the products to program content. He said
advertisers realize they are missing many consumers if they do not advertiser on
cable channels. "If they're going to go to cable and something else, they try to
get as closely associated content (as possible)," he said. "So what we'll come
up with a lot of times is finding a kind of content that seems to make sense for
a particular kind of product and go to them with that."
                For example, Kaleidoscope is currently developing a new show aimed at
parents of children with disabilities, which is being created with Exceptional
Parent magazine. It will be a television version of that magazine. In this case,
he will go to clients such as Fisher Price toys to look for sponsorship because
Fisher Price makes some toys that are accessible for kids with various kinds of
disabilities, either cognitive or mobility. Other types of potential sponsors
for a parenting show might be Kraft foods or Toys R Us, Cayton said. So the
channel tries to orient the advertiser's product as closely as it can to the
content of a program to obtain sponsors. Another content-sponsor tie is the
accessible travel show. The channel has aired a series of specials. called the
Destination Series, which are about accessibility issues and cities. The
sponsors for those are hotels and airlines and sometimes restaurant chains.
Another program, "Living with Diabetes,"is filled with sponsors who produce
products for people with diabetes such as insulin, syringes, and all kinds of
cooling packs, Cayton said.
                Currently, the channel must focus on national advertising because
regional advertising would mean setting up a revenue sharing package with local
cable companies. And Kaleidoscope has not decided to move toward that market
yet, Cayton said. The closest to regional advertising has been some
quasi-national companies such as Southwest Airlines, which doesn't fly in every
state. A problem arises from the focus just on national advertisers
occasionally, Cayton says, because some companies won't advertise at all in a
market where they don't have a presence.
                Attracting regional disability equipment firms has been company
specific. Cayton says most equipment firms are trying to reach a very broad
audience, except for the dealers who are locally owned. Many products can be
shipped anywhere, but others have to be customized. For example, "Wheelchairs
are tough," Cayton explains. "You can't mail order a wheelchair. It has to be
customized." He estimates there are 10-12 U.S. wheelchair manufacturers and
probably another 100 companies make wheelchair accessories.
 
          DISABILITY AS A NICHE MARKET
                Cayton says selling advertisers on the idea of America's Disability
Channel is a "hard sell." Because the channel is new, it doesn't yet have
Nielsen ratings. The channel is currently on a number cable systems, and reaches
15 million homes through 200 cable systems in 34 states, Cayton says. This is a
similar number to the C-Span channel, he said.  "It's a significant audience
but it's just under the minimums of a lot of the major agencies (in terms of
sponsoring programs)," he explained. The next step, therefore, is to get ratings
for the channel because then it becomes a different kind of buy for advertisers.
"More of an agency buy," Cayton explained. "More companies use it as added
reach, added exposure, to a specific target market. Right now we're used as a
target market or a niche market."
                So the channel must pitch its program on an expansive demographic
profile and making sure advertisers understand the disability community as a
consumer group. The channel relies on demographic profiles of the U.S.
disability community generated from the U.S. government during the development
of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The government estimates are 49 million
people in the United States have some kind of disability. Kaleidoscope expands
this market to 80 million by including the families of people with disabilities
and health-care providers. With this group, it comes up with a niche market of
$699 billion, which it says represents 30 percent of the U.S. population.
Nichols says they have extrapolated that earning power of the community from the
U.S. Census Bureau.
                However, questions arise about that figure because many people with
disabilities are historically unemployed or underemployed. Nichols admits that
some advertisers ask about that. What Kaleidoscope executives explain to these
advertisers is the difference between the seriously disabled population and
those people who have moderate or hidden disabilities.   "The underemployed or
very underemployed are severely disabled people and is a much smaller population
in this country," Nichols says. "That's not the crowd that we're addressing. The
family members of those people and the people with disabilities who are employed
are a much larger group of people." He estimates that of the 49 million people
with disabilities, most are employed. The severely disabled population may be
highly unemployed, but they are generally taken care of, not by the government,
but by their families, Nichols said. Those families may have the same income as
the average American.
                In addition, Kaleidoscope has a National Advisory Board, which ties
it into disability related organizations nationally. These organizations such as
Easter Seals, AARP, the National Association of the Deaf, etc. are allowed to
actively promote their own programming on the channel.  Kaleidoscope also bills
itself as the "world's first fully accessible channel" by providing four
communication forms: sign language, open captions (on-screen subtitles without a
decoder needed), full sound, and audio description, which provides voiced
narration for blind and visually impaired people.
                Cayton makes the comparison between the burgeoning disability market
and the Hispanic market 10-15 years ago. Back then, he says, the demographic
concept of the Hispanic market didn't really exist. People with Hispanic
backgrounds were always there and the population grew slightly. "So a couple of
radio stations and TV stations decided to address it as a market and it became a
market," Cayton said. "It always was. They just started addressing it that way.
Now Hispanic television is one of the hottest things around, crossing over
audiences too, crossing over with a lot of Anglo or non-Spanish speaking
viewers."
                The "language" niche served by Kaleidoscope are the completely
captioned programs and commercials. The Disability Channel is finding that to be
a significant component of the network's appeal, so it started selling
captioning services as a sideline. Cayton said a surprising number of
commercials are not captioned -- only about 40 percent of commercials. So the
channel provides free captioning services to large advertisers, or it will just
sell a captioning service for a specific commercial. And Cayton is able to make
his pitch to advertisers about expanding their markets through captioning. He
says: "There are 28 million people out there who may not be able to hear or may
have a limited understanding of that commercial, and I don't think in any
marketing campaign you would automatically skip 28 million people." The National
Captioning Institute has also found secondary uses of captioning that are of
interest to advertisers as well -- it is easier to read captions from a distance
in a noisy room. Some convention halls set their monitors to captioned
presentations because people may not be able to hear in a large room.
                Cayton said that promoting the channel has been a slow process
because it doesn't have lots of money to buy billboards all over the country or
promote itself on CNN. He began working for Kaleidoscope in 1994 when it had no
recognition at all. "It's hard in a presentation to take someone from square one
to getting money out of their pocket," he said. But in 1995 especially, the
channel has done quite a bit of public relations, and articles have been written
about it in a variety of industry publications.
                The newest promotion arena for Kaleidoscope is an online project.
Cayton said it's going to be a side business with a broad scope. "It's designed
to bring together all of the advisory boards members and a lot of our
advertisers in one kind of organized promotional/advertising vehicle," he said.
TCI carries the network on its system and will uplink the network's digital
service on its transponder (Walley, 1995). Through this connection, the network
plans to make use of the broadband technology that will link co-axle cable to
home computers. Because of the superior speed of cable over a telephone modem,
Cayton said online services will be switching to this broadband service in the
future. He says it is only natural that companies such as TCI, which already
have cable in lots of homes, will be moving into broadband service. "It's going
to change the way online stuff is done. We're going to be involved in that and
it's going to a major sales and marketing effort because advertisers are going
to be able to do things they've never done before," Cayton explained. He adds
that TCI's broadband service is not going to expensive either, about $30 to $40
a month. He thinks this technology will make a big difference for Kaleidoscope
TV because  people will be able to stumble across the network on the Internet.
This connection between cable, computers, and the disability community is
significant because computer use has brought down barriers for many people with
disabilities. Cayton said estimates are that computer use is about 40 percent
higher among people with disabilities than with the general public.
 
          DEVELOPING PROGRAM CONTENT
                Having the Paraolympic Games in the United States for the first time
during the summer of 1996 hopes to be an awareness and content boon to the
network. Starting in Atlanta, the events for athletes with disabilities will now
be connected geographically with the Olympics by following the international
games at each location. The network carries lots of Paraolympics programming, so
Cayton says this summer's Paraolympics "is going to be a big turning point for
us." (See Attachment 1-2 for an example of the network's 24-hour schedule.)
                Demographically speaking, the channel has discovered that disability
and illness categories are such a huge market that it can only rarely create age
or gender variations of those categories. Nichols says: "What we're doing is
we're segmenting the market primarily by disability categories or illness
categories and within those targeting certain age groups." For example, if the
channel wants to create a program to deal with diabetes, then Kaleidoscope
officials go to the American Diabetes Association or the Juvenile Diabetes
Association to tell them what is an age demographic to target and then they
create a program to reach that market.
                The only real age targeting is children versus adult programming. One
children's program that has garnered the most press for the channel. "Kim's
World" features a young woman who is deaf and blind. Kim Powers vivaciously
introduces children to her world and its lack of limitations. She rides an
elephant; she scuba dives, or she acts out a children's story in full costume. A
Kaleidoscope executive spotted Powers when she was appearing in a San Antonio
theater production. Powers was born deaf and at age 11 developed retinitis
pigmentosa, which caused her blindness. Powers, who has always been involved in
theater, told a Los Angeles Times reporter the focus of her show: "I want young
children to understand what it is like to be disabled and to be curious about
feeling things and smelling things and touching things the way I do" (Rosenberg,
1995). Her goal is to be a role model for others.  She especially wants to
children with disabilities to understand that they can fully experience things
and participate in lots of activities. Powers communicates through an
interpreter who voices her words. The interpreter speaks to Powers through
tactile sign language in which she feels the signs with her hands.
                The goal for future new program development is for more interactive
type programming, such as the call-in shows. Nichols said: "Our philosophy,
because the people who do our programming are primarily former broadcasting and
cable people, is to use the successful format. You just change the content."
They know that the live issue-oriented talk shows work on broadcast and cable so
the Kaleidoscope executives will plan programs that use that format to talk
about disability and illness related subjects. Other content areas currently
under consideration are situation comedies and sports programming.
                Most programs are developed in-house but working in conjunction with
disability-related organizations on its advisory board. The ultimate goal is to
have some really hot programs that will draw people to the network. The network
features standard fare such as KTV news, which is basically a news show in prime
time that features health care, disability, and illness issues. The news show
includes news feeds from all the disability-related organizations. Nichols
explains:  "That's the kind of news that a lot of people are interested in, who
are health interested and yet it is not the kind of show that develops a cult
(following)." He compares it to a "Dateline," in which people are just generally
interested in some of the subject matter. "Our idea is that we have to have a
number of programs that are pretty standard, people want to watch, informational
programs and then develop a few hot things," Nichols said.
                Joe Cayton said the network is working on a potentially "hot" project
right now called  "Helen Keller: The Magic Within." The network is undertaking
this project in cooperation with the American Foundation for the Blind. He
explains that this is an example of a project connected with a network advisory
board organizations. The network also produced programs with Easter Seals such
as "Making Life Better" and is developing a program with the Arthritis
Foundation called "Arthritis Today."
 
 
          POSITIVE PRESENTATIONS OF DISABILITY
                The implicit notion of the network is that it is working with a board
of advisory disability-related organizations whose goals are to enhance the
images of people with disabilities in society. "Our whole structure uses the
national and local boards, and all that is designed to help the organizations
who are already doing that (positive imagery)," Nichols said. "We're trying to
be of help to them get their job done." Nichols gives an example of a show on
the network called "People at Work," which is done in cooperation with a
Congressionally funded organization. It is a program that shows people with
disabilities in workplaces, illustrating what a good job they do. "The whole
point of the show is not to raise money, not to get anybody to do advertising.
The show is designed to show the general public that people with disabilities
are good employees and you ought to hire these folks," Nichols said. Nichols
says the network also changes images of people with disabilities through public
service announcements. He thinks the that the shows from the disability-related
organizations plus PSAs plus the network itself help enhance a positive image of
people with disabilities.
                But a problem arises when controversial issues surface in the
disability community or about medical information. Nichols reaction: "We're a
commercial network. We're not going to take a side." He had people request that
the network take a side on the health care issue or the independent living
issue. "I say. 'No,' why don't you take a side and I'll run it for you," Nichols
said. He admits that there may be certain issues that the network might make an
editorial statement about, but the network will allow all sides on an issue to
have their say. "We see ourselves as television network that has journalistic
integrity. We're not out to censor anybody. We want everybody to have their view
and so on in our news and our other programs," Nichols said.
                On the other hand, Nichols says Kaleidoscope is a commercial network.
"So we're not out just to let people do their thing. And we have to balance how
much of each." So he says there are limits to how much the network might let a
small group vocalize about a controversial issue -- for awhile, but not forever.
"What we have found is that the national organizations that support us are not
interested in avoiding subjects or hiding from issues. What they don't want is
someone who lifts up one weird thing," he said. However, if the issue is large
such as the protest when Gallaudet University hired a hearing president,
Kaleidoscope will give the issue lots of coverage.  "I'd say we're a little more
sensitive to journalistic integrity than some networks because we have a
conscience with all of our organizations, with our national advisory board. We
also probably don't have the liberty to be as commercial as some networks
because the national advisory board gives us a lot of help," Nichols explained.
For example, the network will not advertise certain products because they may
cause disabilities, such as the link between alcohol and fetal alcohol syndrome.
The network also avoids violence on its children's programs and avoids explicit
sexual content in all its products. "I would say that we are very journalistic
in that we give people a chance to say their view. On the other side, we have to
be very careful as a commercial network not to turn this into a social
organization. We'll go broke," Nichols said.
 
 
 
          CONCLUSIONS
                Therein lies the dilemma for America's Disability Channel -- How does
the network keep financial solvency and maintain integrity among the disability
community it hopes to attract to watch the channel? What is under the surface in
this study is that, in the eyes of the disability rights movement, many of the
disability-related organizations and medical organizations make for
controversial connections for the network. These organizations are seen as
perpetuating connections to paternalism, charity, and "medicalization" of
disability.
                One of the most controversial disability organizations in the United
States today is listed on the network's 100-member National Advisory Board: the
Muscular Dystrophy Association. Disability activists have openly despised and
protested the annual Jerry Lewis/MDA Telethon for a number of years. And
although Kaleidoscope has not run the telethon on its network, the network's
connection to MDA could represent "guilt by association." Disability scholars
and activists see the MDA telethon as a cultural flashpoint, representing
antiquated views of disability. Phillips (1990) calls a telethon an "occasion of
ideology," rather than an "occasion of social reality" in U.S. culture. The
occasions of ideology invoke pity and charity in belief of a cure, while
occasions of social reality summon feelings of resentment and confusion over the
"abnormality" of people with disabilities. During the occasions of ideology, the
discourse focuses on the "defect" of the person, and disabled persons are
homogenized as one. Culturally, as well, telethons ask U.S. society to embrace
the optimism of the charity toward miracles and cures.
                This discourse of charity potentially rejects the disability rights
perspective, which is  slowly pushing its way into the public's consciousness in
the 1990s. This perspective contrasts with the reigning view of people with
disabilities, which has adopted a medical or social welfare perspective in which
disability is seen as a physical problem alone residing within individuals
(Scotch, 1988). The disability rights perspective views disability as a
phenomenon created by society, which has yet to modify its architectural,
occupational, educational, communication, and attitudinal environments to
accommodate people who are physically and mentally different (Bowe, 1978). In
the rights perspective, physical difference is acknowledged, and even celebrated
as an ethnicity might be by some, but the focus is away from the disabled
individual as the problem and on society's structures instead.
                So in telethons, the blending of the disability rights perspective
and the charity theme would seem unusual. Phillips (1992) speculates: "Might
installing a wheelchair ramp disaffirm the ideology of cure?" (p. 849). In
addition, many of the Kaleidoscope advisory board organizations are medical in
focus. The biological or medical model has been the repeated message throughout
much of U.S. culture and in its mass media images. Within the medical model,
disability is presented as an illness or malfunction. Persons who have
disabilities are shown as dependent on health professionals for cures or
maintenance. People with disabilities are seen as passive and do not participate
in "regular" activities because of disability (Clogston, 1990). These are some
of the possible cultural paradigms represented still in some disability-related
charitable organizations that the disability rights movement fights against.
                For example, the Jerry Lewis telethon, more than the Muscular
Dystrophy Association, is the target of disability activists' ire. The
anti-telethon activist group, Jerry's Orphans, instituted a divestment plan,
asking corporate sponsors to continue their donations to MDA but not to give
their money on the telethon. Their goal was to neutralize the telethon while
allowing MDA fundraising to continue for research and equipment (Test of Wills,
September/October 1992). Jerry's Orphans consists of some former MDA poster
children who are now disability rights activists.
                Lathrop explains how the MDA telethon represents a clash of
antiquated images with the modern goals of empowerment desired by the disability
rights movement (1992).  Throughout much of history, people with disabilities
have been characterized as childlike, dependent, and helpless, Lathrop says.
However, since the 1970s, people with disabilities have been gaining more
independence and civil rights through federal legislation and technological
advancements. "These newer, adult roles challenge the older roles of childlike
dependency" (Lathrop, 1992, p. 18). Therefore, many people with disabilities no
longer want to be Jerry's "kids."
                Outsiders to the disability perspective have difficulty understanding
that many people with disabilities want the emphasis to be on empowerment and
independence for today, rather than a cure for the future. "We are not all into
being cured," said the late Ed Roberts, a disabled man who founded the
independent living movement in the United States. "We are people who need to go
on with our lives" (quoted in Lathrop, 1992, p. 18).
                Disability activists are advocating for a new meaning to media images
and Kaleidoscope's links to medical organizations and its stated goals of
objectivity may run counter to these notions. The images of charity, pity, and
medical "problems" may be interpreted as a roadblock to the attitude changes
toward people with disabilities that activists want to see take place in U.S.
society.
                On the other hand, other components of the programming Kaleidoscope
is developing fit squarely with the kind of realistic images the disability
community would like to see flow through the mass media. An empowered actress
such as Kim Powers does much to break down attitudinal barriers, in addition to
making children aware that difference is to be embraced, not scorned. The
network gives many entertainers and athletes with disabilities an avenue for
performance and recognition. The network has a stated goal of working with
creators in the entertainment industry to "provide a fertile environment for top
talent to test innovative programming ideas in a cost effective manner"
(Kaleidoscope press release). Nichols says, "In 1995, good will is good
business."
                Another crucial empowering component for the network is its
four-tiered accessibility for people with a variety of vision or hearing
difficulties. Kaleidoscope has clout as the "world's first fully accessible
channel" by providing four communication forms: sign language, open captions
(on-screen subtitles without a decoder needed), full sound, and audio
description, which provides voiced narration for blind and visually impaired
people. The audience may watch fully accessible movies, specials, news programs,
etc. The shows also give significant useful information for managing a disabling
condition such as diabetes, arthritis, etc. In that way, the network truly makes
information and entertainment available to a huge group of people ignored by
other networks. In May 1995, Kaleidoscope kicked off a home shopping show.
Produced by ViaTV of Knoxville, Tenn., the show, "Shopping!," hopes to be a
location where people can find disability related products (Goldman, 1995).
Advertising Age estimates that there are 5,000 companies that market products or
services for people with disabilities. For example, Creative Industries will
advertise its pottery wheel that is wheelchair accessible. But only about 20
percent of the shopping show's products will be geared toward disability
(Goldman, 1995).
                So Kaleidoscope must have a multifaceted mission if it is to survive
economically. It must work diligently to make sure its programming firmly
adheres to representing disability issues fairly and positively. And that may be
a difficult balance to achieve without potentially alienating members of its
National Advisory Board of disability related organizations or its audience of
people with disabilities. It seems economic factors can influence the creation
of positive or negative images of disability. The charity theme has been a
profitable one for telethons for many years. But in the 1990s, it seems the
consumer model would be a more empowering and less stigmatizing way to frame a
disability related cable channel. Within this model, people with disabilities
are seen to represent an untapped consumer group, and making society accessible
could be profitable to businesses and society in general (Haller, 1995). For
example, if people with disabilities have access to jobs, they will have more
disposable income for consumer goods. If disabled people have jobs, they will
need less government assistance.
                Ironically, the network's stated framework of objectivity may be its
biggest impediment to economic viability. If it views people with disabilities
only in terms of consumer power and not in terms of ideology and political
power, the network could alienate audience members who embrace a rights based
notion of disability, rather than a medically based one. For its own economic
survival, the channel must be extremely cognizant of the ideological dimensions
of its programming and its links to its advisory board organizations. The
network must also be aware of the general public's unawareness of some of these
political and ideological issues about disability, so as not to direct its
programming toward overt militancy. That might alienate another segment of the
audience. America's Disability Channel has a tightrope to walk if it is to
maintain economic stability within its "good will is good business" philosophy.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
          SOURCES
 
          Bowe, F. (1978). Handicapping America. New York: Harper & Row.
 
          Cayton, J. (1995, November 21). [Interview].
 
          Clogston, J.  S. (1990). Disability Coverage in 16 Newspapers.
Louisville: Advocado Press.
 
          Gable, D. (1995, March 29). Disability channel widens boundaries. USA
Today, p. 3D.
 
          Goldman, J. (1995, May 15). Kaleidoscope TV on a 'Shopping!" kick.
Advertising Age, p. 12.
 
          Haller, B. (1995). Disability rights on the public agenda. Unpublished
doctoral dissertation, Temple University. Philadelphia, Pa.
 
          Kaleidoscope, America's Disability Channel. (1995). Press kit
materials. [Available from 1777 NE Loop 410, Suite 300, San Antonio, TX 78217].
 
          Lathrop, D. (1992, August). Telethons caught in 'collision of images.'
Mainstream. pp. 17- 21.
 
          Nichols, B. (1995, November 21. [Interview].
 
          Phillips, M. J. (1990). Damaged goods: The oral narratives of the
experience of disability in American culture. Social Science & Medicine, 30:8,
pp. 849-857.
 
          Rosenberg, H. (1995, February 7). 'Kim's World' open to disabled and
beyond. Los Angeles Times, p. F1.
 
          Scotch, R.  K. (1988). Disability as the basis for a social movement:
Advocacy and politics of definition. Journal of Social Issues, 44(1), 159-172.
 
          "Test of Wills. Jerry Lewis, Jerry's Orphans and the Telethon."
(September/October 1992). The Disability Rag. pp. 4-9.
 
          Walley, W. (1995, April 24). Cable channel reaches for disabled
Americans. Electronic Media, p. 1

Back to: Top of Message | Previous Page | Main AEJMC Page

Permalink



LIST.MSU.EDU

CataList Email List Search Powered by the LISTSERV Email List Manager