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WBFO Disabilities Beat

The WBFO Disabilities Beat aims to promote equity and acceptance by elevating marginalized voices, holding corporations and government accountable, and combatting misinformation and stigmatization through education about the disability community.

Reports from the Disabilities Beat provide Western New York residents with essential information about the challenges facing people with disabilities and content that promotes understanding. In-depth, original, long-form reporting addresses issues relevant to people living with disabilities, their families, caregivers, community leaders, and decision-makers. Coverage also contextualizes important regional and national news to consider the unique and often-overlooked implications of economic, education, policy and environmental impacts on the disability community. Reporting will also tie disability rights to discussions about the economy (e.g., wage gaps for employees with disabilities), civic participation (e.g., accessibility of ballot machines), mobility (e.g., paratransit availability), and more.

Every Wednesday, hear 7-8 minute Disabilities Beat reports on WBFO during Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
A graphic with a red background. The first level of text is the WBFO NPR logo. There is a line below it and then another line of text reading "Disabilities Beat."

The WBFO Disabilities Beat is funded in part by the Peter & Elizabeth Tower Foundation.

Latest from the WBFO Disabilities Beat
  • April is Autism Acceptance Month. While a lot of news this month will focus around what autism is and different programs led by or for people who are autistic, one conversation that isn't had enough is how autistic people experience and navigate grief.
  • WBFO's Disabilities Beat has been covering how people with disabilities can enjoy the eclipse safely and equitably over the past several months. Below you'll find stories you can read for more advice, listen to for interesting interviews, as well as a compiled list of resources that have been mentioned to us.
  • Many local organizations have been finding ways to make the eclipse accessible to people with disabilities, and among them is a local volunteer-driven free radio service for people with vision and print disabilties. WBFO's Disability Reporter Emyle Watkins spoke with Michael Benzin from Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service about how they are using their local radio program to help make the eclipse accessible to people with disabilities.
  • For students who may be low vision or blind, learning about the eclipse has to include accessible materials, like tactile images. Last week, Reporter Holly Kirkpatrick visited Williamsville Central Schools to speak to Gail Vaughan, the district's teacher for students with vision disabilities and Mark Percy, the district’s planetarium director about the need for more accessible eclipse education materials and how they developed their curriculum.
  • WBFO’s Disability Reporter Emyle Watkins speaks with Thomas Ess, the Vice President for Emergency Management at People Inc, a disability-services agency in Western New York. We discuss why plain language communication matters, how organizations have adapted existing materials for the people they serve, as well as how the eclipse is changing operations for group homes and programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
  • New York is less than a week away from the deadline for the 2025 state budget. Every year, people with disabilities, their families, and the agencies that serve them watch this date closely, because the results of the budget vote will determine living opportunities for tens of thousands of New Yorkers. This week on the Disabilities Beat, we highlight one family's decades-long story of fighting for their loved one's opportunity to live in his community, which is now threatened due to a workforce crisis that many advocates attribute to underfunding in the state budget.
  • March 21st is World Down Syndrome Day. You’ve probably met someone with Down syndrome before or know what Down syndrome is, but how often do you talk to people with Down syndrome? In this week’s episode, Disabilities Beat Reporter Emyle Watkins visits GiGi’s Playhouse in Buffalo, which provides a variety of social activities, classes and resources for people of all ages with Down syndrome. We interview three adults living with Down syndrome who share that the biggest barrier to equity might be the simplest to solve: it’s how we talk to and with people with visible disabilities.
  • Over the past decade, a local activist has fought for New York State to expand its paratransit system beyond the federal minimum distance it can go. Stephanie Speaker's own experiences with paratransit, the point-to-point public transportation system for people with disabilities, not being able to reach where she needs to go has galvanized her to secure funding and potential legislation that could expand the system. This week, WBFO's Emyle Watkins shares an interview with Speaker from 2023 about her work and why she wants to see paratransit go farther.
  • Soon New York State will finalize its 2025 budget, which always impacts programs and services utilized by New Yorkers with disabilities. One of those programs is Special Olympics, an organization that provides a variety of free opportunities for athletes of all ages with disabilities. On this week's Disabilities Beat, we speak with Special Olympics New York CEO, Stacey Hengsterman. She joined us back in December for an exclusive interview to share that they will face cuts if the state doesn't increase their funding, which they claim has remained stagnant at $1.5 million over the past 20 years.
  • Jasmine Harris, a law professor and disability rights legal scholar from the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, explains in a conversation with WBFO’s Disability Reporter Emyle Watkins how local laws like the recently vetoed Erie County Language Access Act can interact with federal disability laws, like the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
  • On this episode of the Disabilities Beat, Emyle Watkins speaks with Erie County’s newest Family Court Judge, the honorable Shannon Filbert, about her perspective as a judge with a disability on what people with disabilities should know about family court. We break down some misconceptions about family court, the role disability can play in custody hearings and where the family court system could improve.
  • On this episode of the Disabilities Beat, Emyle Watkins speaks with Kevin Smith, the director of Mental Health Peer Connection, about how peer-led services are helping to bridge a treatment gap. We also learn about their Renewal Center, which offers a peer-led alternative to a psychiatric emergency room.
Additional WBFO Disabilities Reporting