Disability in January 10 Chicago media

The front page of the January 10 issue of the Chicago Tribune ran two stories that featured disability as a fairly significant piece of the story. Both stories provide catalyst for discussion on disability issues as well as reporting on disability issues.

The first story, “Bill due for non-profit chief,” the lead story in the paper, reported on a non-profit leader who is being prosecuted for his failure to follow through on a settlement agreement with a former secretary. Allegedly, the CEO borrowed thousands of dollars from the former secretary. In an agreement with the secretary, the CEO pledged to pay the money back. According the to the Chicago Tribune the CEO “defaulted on that settlement agreement, writing checks that bounced due to insufficient funds.”

The disability angle of this story is that the former secretary has a disability. She is diagnosed with dementia. In the story, speaking of the defaulted payments, a public guardian working on behalf of the secretary is quoted to say, “It’s wrong for so many reasons...(the secretary) is compromised because of dementia, she can’t control her basic life functions, and was pretty much on her own.”

The question the story raises is how large a role should disability play in the story. On one hand, if a person has committed a crime such as fraud, is it any more or less of a crime if the victim has a disability. If it is a crime either way, then what is the significance of including disability. On the other hand, if, as a result of a disability, a person is more vulnerable to crime, then perhaps disability does play a role. According to the story, disability did make a difference. A medical evaluation of the secretary reported that her disability “would have made her unable to enter into financial transactions or contracts.”

The second story, “Paraplegic patient, NU doctor upset that stem cell test ended,” began on the bottom of page one of the January 10 Chicago Tribune. The story covered a stem cell research trial that was abandoned midcourse because the company financing the study decided to shift the focus of its research. The story included the perspective of someone who had acquired a disability as a result of a spinal cord injury and who actively sought out participation in the trial. He had began treatment when the trial was terminated.

Stem cell research has long been a sensitive topic within the disability community. Many groups send the message that while research should play a role in the lives of people with disabilities, resources should be funneled toward access, inclusion and peer support for people with disabilities rather than a cure for people with disabilities. The story hinted that stem cell research has its share of controversy. But the controversy didn’t revolve what kind of social message a focus on cure sends to and about the disability community. Rather, the controversy focused on putting research into science that might not work.

No matter what message readers may pull from either article in the paper, it was interesting to see two stories on the front page with disability playing a significant role.

In my work within the disability community, many times I’ve heard people say that every issue, and every story has a disability angle. Today’s paper seemed to make that case.

This blog entry submitted by Gary Arnold, Access Living’s Public Relations Coordinator


  1. Gary Arnold Here is another perspective disability, this one from the wife of a man with a disability in Minnesota.

    "After a spinal-cord injury, life goes on"

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