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Thursday, August 16, 2012

NBC Not Airing the Paralympics Says Plenty . . . About Us

          Earlier this week my usual early morning check on Facebook brought me to a post from one of the smartest people I know who discusses disability issues. She posted a link to an article with a headline decrying the number of hours NBC dedicates to covering the Olympics versus the hours it airs games from the Paralympics – NBC: 5,000+ Hours for Olympics, 0 Hours for Paralympics.

          It’s a familiar complaint within the disability community, and a legitimate one on some levels. But the fact of the matter is that we shoulder some of the blame for what many seem to suggest is a lack of respect for the disability community. NBC doesn’t air the Olympic Games out of some sense of national pride. It’s a business decision. They reportedly paid $1.18 billion for the U.S. rights to air the Games. The only reason they do that is because they believe it will help them ultimately make money.

          I certainly don’t know all of the ramifications of airing the Olympics, but obviously airing commercials is a huge part of the deal for NBC. It’s a safe bet they can charge companies premium dollar for a 30-second ad during in the middle a summer day for two weeks instead of whatever they get for a rerun of The Ellen Degeneres Show. Prime-time coverage no doubt skyrockets the price. They can also pump viewers with promotions for their regular prime time shows. In fact, pushing their own shows may be the bigger factor as the report linked to in the last paragraph suggests NBC was projected to lose money in actually airing the Olympics, but may end up making a small profit. But, ultimately, the article suggested that profits equated to “gross revenue at $1.25 billion.”

          This only happens because people watch the Olympics. Again citing the same article, this summer’s Olympics were “the most-watched event in U.S. TV history.”

          More to the point – and I know I’m spelling out the abc’s of television, but bear with me – consumers were watching the Olympics in record numbers this summer.

          If people with disabilities really want to do something about the Paralympics reportedly getting zero hours of coverage this month, we need to do more than complain about NBC. This is a classic example of a topic grabbing our community’s attention, everyone crying “foul,” and nobody discussing the real problem nor even trying to do anything about it.

          NBC cares about revenue. Advertisers mostly care about getting their product in front of consumers.

          The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2012 recently reported, “As of January 2012 only 20% of people with disabilities were either working a paid job or seeking employment in the national labor force, compared to 69% of the general population.”

          Obviously, if our community had jobs, people with disabilities would be more a part of the consumer base. The more we become consumers, the more television networks are going to care what we want to watch.

          Of course, employment leads to much more important things than networks caring what we want to watch – home ownership, security, more options in life in general. You know, little things like that.

          So, once again I’ll beat the drum that we need to force so-called advocates funded by tax dollars to help people with disabilities get jobs to do their jobs. The fact is that the accepted figure for unemployment of people with disabilities was 75% for years.

          Blaming the economy for the 5% increase in the already horrific unemployment rates among people with disabilities is a joke. It represents a complete failure by agencies charged with helping the disability community get into the job market.

          By the way, it’s about time we start insisting that all advocacy agencies for people with disabilities to do their part by hiring qualified candidates with disabilities for meaningful jobs. I was a “client” of more than one agency charged (read: paid) to help me find a job and worked for another advocacy group. Never once did I see anyone with an obvious physical disability employed in a job that would bring a professional type of salary by these places. In a job I held for two years with an assistive technology foundation, my part-time salary was paid via a grant from an endowments center across the state and I was treated like a poster child. Yet, the rest of the staff, all able-bodied, was paid directly by the foundation. If these agencies, especially those trying to convince companies that hiring people with disabilities is a good idea, aren’t willing to employ the community they serve, they have failed before they even started.

          We need better. We deserve better. But somehow we better figure out ways to make it happen, because clearly no one else intends to do so.

          It’s the only way we’ll ever have an impact on decisions like whether or not networks air the Paralympics – and other, more important decisions in our lives.

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