Bias Against School Inclusion in Toronto Star Reporting, 2019

This is a section of a larger paper where we examined the Toronto Star’s coverage of the Ontario Government’s autism funding decisions in 2019. You can read the full paper at: autisticmediawatchcanada.com

In its coverage of school inclusion in 2019, the Toronto Star perpetuated the myth that inclusion of disabled children at school is a “burden”.

The Star did not, in any of its coverage, ever present the positive aspects of school inclusion. It never interviewed any school inclusion experts. It never talked to disabled people about inclusion.

The Star referred to 1,000 newly-mainstreamed autistic children into Ontario schools (which is less than one child per school) as an “influx” and an “unsustainable burden,” creating stigma around mainstreamed children and never speaking to any experts on mainstreaming or even defining the term. The Star used the following terms:

Terms the Star didn’t use to describe including less that one new autistic child per school in Ontario include:

  • “equitable”
  • “inclusion”
  • “mainstreaming”
  • desegregation
  • “access”
  • “equality”
  • “welcoming”

In covering the story, Star journalist Laurie Monsebraaten wrote: “Educators are predicting chaos in the classroom as children with autism enter the school system.” This commentary (disguised as news) distills the Star’s entire approach to the matter of disability inclusion in schools during the period studied.

Read our full report: Star media bias in school inclusion reporting 2019

Note: We reviewed 39 news articles, 2 OpEds written by the Star and 1 Toronto Star OpEd from a lobby leader. (See paper for methodology.)

Who Speaks for Autism?: Unpacking media bias in Toronto Star reporting on autism funding and school inclusion

We’ve written a report about systematic bias in the Toronto Star‘s coverage of provincial autism policy changes and school inclusion.

Read the full report here: Who Speaks for Autism_Unpacking Media Bias at the Star

In the report, we examine The Star’s coverage of the Ontario Government’s autism funding decisions between January 1, 2019 and August 28, 2019 about the autism policy funding package known as the Ontario Autism Program (OAP). We look at who the Star spoke with; which therapy they referenced; factual errors and how often they were repeated; and how People of Colour, non-verbal people,and autistic self-advocates generally were underrepresented by the Star.

Some main points:

  • The Star consistently left out the voices of People of Colour, both parents and autistic people, with just 6% representation, even though the GTA has a 51% demographic of People of Colour.
  • Autistic people were only interviewed 4 times in the Star’s autism policy coverage. 0% of people quoted by the Star were non-verbal autistics and 0% were autistic adults of Colour. Amazingly, 2/3 of the Star’s community quotes on autism policy came from the same married couple.
  • School inclusion was referred to as a “burden” and the Star consistently referred to the addition of less than one autistic child per school in 2019 as an “influx,” stating it would lead to “chaos”.
  • No school inclusion experts, nor any non-ABA autism service providers, nor any AAC experts were ever quoted by the Star as it covered these issues during the time period studied.
  • When two autistic people were included for the first time in the Ontario government’s 20-member autism policy consultation panel, the Star did not interview them, but rather mislabeled them as “an anti-science group,” an error the Star refused to correct.

Our report details these and many other issues, as well as outlining the dovetails between politicians, media and lobbying groups that have impacted provincial autism policy for years, as well as shaping public perceptions about autism in Ontario. The paper concludes with a discussion about media bias and what we can all do to stop it.

This wasn’t an easy paper for us to write. To revisit the bias is a difficult but essential process towards making things better. We hope you will read and share this paper, too. Thank you.