How We Did It: Ford Foundation

A study in empathy

by Kaitlyn Kurosky, Sr. Director @ High10 Media

The Mission

Our work with The Ford Foundation first kicked off around strategy for a white paper on disability inclusion in media and entertainment from disability rights pioneer and Ford Foundation Senior Fellow Judith Heumann.

If you haven’t heard of Judy, it’s worth taking the time to learn a bit more about her story. Over decades, she’s played a major role in developing some of the most important thinking about disability activism and has helped shape some of the defining legislation on the topic. Her great TED talk is here.

Creating our strategy for the report, we knew we’d have to lean into Judy’s own experience. After all, this wasn’t some dry policy paper but a deep dive into the critically important issue of how we portray—and consume portrayals of—disability in the media. 

We also had to make sure the report would be placed in front of the right audiences—namely, influencers, decision makers, and people interested in the ongoing conversation about equality, civic justice, and accessibility.

Given High10’s specialization in representing media clients, we knew we had all the tools we needed to get the report the attention it deserved.

Setting Out

Right away, we began to map out both the immediate press opportunities and the strategy around the launch of the paper. Given there would be multiple opportunities to engage with recent news and ongoing industry-wide conversations, we interviewed Judy extensively about her personal story, her experience as a disability rights activist, her views on the topic of media representation, and her vision for the future. 

To make sure we had a lay of the land, we mapped out conversations unfolding in the media about the topic and created tailored media lists that are essential to any outreach effort. 

The Result  

After initial conversations with key reporters and outlets focused on this type of coverage, we found the right home at HuffPost, with the outlet exclusively breaking the report. 

This gave us the jump start we needed to share Judy’s report with a wider industry audience. Working with Judy, we set up interviews with reporters to explain and further detail her life’s work. Judy was ultimately featured in other outlets including The Chicago TribuneNew York magazine, CNN.com and Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources newsletter, both in relation to the report and her reaction to industry news at the time. Taking the outreach a step further, Judy also filmed an appearance on Bloomberg TV’s Equality Series.

Our initial interview with Judy also came into play as we helped her craft and place an opinion piece toward the end of our engagement. Responding to a major moment for the disability community, Ali Stroker’s Tony Award win, Judy’s response was featured in The Hollywood Reporter. You can read “What Ali Stroker’s Historic Win Means for Wheelchair Users Like Me” here

Another key aspect of this work was pursuing speaking opportunities and appearances for Judy. She already was well known on the speaking circuit, but the report allowed us to re-introduce her and offer a timely topic to organizers. As our work wrapped up in the spring of 2019, opportunities on the table included the ReelAbilities Film Festival in Los Angeles and New York, as well as a collaboration with Temple University in Philadelphia.