Uzbek Visitors See Similarities Between their Disability Newspaper and Access Press
On June 11, three visitors from Uzbekistan visited Access Press to learn about the role of a disability newspaper in the U.S. They were guests of the Minnesota International Center’s International Visitor Leadership Program, and Access Press was just one of their many stops while in Minnesota. Hosted that afternoon by Access Press editor Tim Benjamin, the group had a lively exchange via the visitors’ Russian interpreters. All the Uzbekistanis had connections to their disability community. Two of them had a special interest in Access Press because they publish disability newspapers of their own.
We Want to Talk about Ourselves
Benjamin met with Larisa Khodjaeva, Oibek Isakov, and Guli Abaskhanova. Khodjaeva took the lead, asking about key details related to publishing Access Press. She wanted to know everything from its circulation (11,000) to the cost of a subscription ($25). She also noted that due to her interest in publishing, this meeting with Access Press was a key stop for her on the group’s overall itinerary.
Khodjaeva then shared some more background on herself. She is affiliated with the Research Center for Disabled Children in Tashkent and is the chief editor of We Want to Talk about Ourselves, a glossy, colorful newspaper published on behalf of children and teens with disabilities (pictured). When Benjamin noted that it would cost a lot more to print Access Press in a similar manner, Khodjaeva said they do it because that makes their paper more attractive to its target group: kids. The paper’s circulation is about 1,000.
Upon viewing a sample of Khodjaeva’s paper, Benjamin was interested to see articles published in both Russian and English. When asked what disabilities are common in Uzbekistan, she responded that it is a mix of physical and mental disabilities, and that diabetes is a huge problem in her country. In fact, among the interesting list of sponsors for Khodjaeva’s paper are two companies that produce insulin: Novo Nordisk and Lilly. Novo is doing research on the prevalence of diabetes in Uzbekistan; Lilly is providing funds for a camp for kids with disabilities related to diabetes.
Even with financial backing from sponsors, Khodjaeva and Benjamin agreed that it is always a struggle to find enough money for their papers. And since both are always interested in a good story, they agreed to provide each other with articles via an e-mail exchange.
Soon Oibek Isakov took over the questioning. He is the chair of the Disabled People’s Society of Uzbekistan and is also affiliated with a disability newspaper. The English translation of the name of his paper is Dignity. It publishes 3,000 copies twice a month, and its yearly budget is about $10,000 (U.S.); this is about the same cost as printing one month of Access Press.
The Dignity is printed in black and white to save money. The relatively high cost of a subscription is a serious problem. The average pension for a person with a disability in Uzbekistan is 300,000 som (Uzbekistani currency) per year; a subscription to Dignity costs 10,000 som per year (3.3 % of annual income)! In comparison, Access Press is 10 times more affordable for a person on a fixed income in Minnesota; the SSI annual payment is $7476 ($623 monthly), and a subscription to Access Press costs $25 (0.33 % of annual income).
Isakov’s paper is of a social and political nature, dealing with issues important to people with disabilities. However, the paper also includes articles on general criminal activity, because that is what draws readers in. Among those the paper hopes to attract with these crime teasers are people without disabilities; Isakov believes that the able-bodied fear disability, forgetting that it can happen to anyone.
Dignity welcomes submissions from people with disabilities, who are paid if their articles are used. In general, Isakov believes that people with disabilities should participate in society as full citizens and accept the accompanying responsibility. A colleague of his in Uzbekistan says an “invalid” is not one whose body doesn’t function, but one who doesn’t use what he or she has.
The two papers are remarkably similar. Like Access Press, the goal of Dignity is to improve the understanding of disability in the greater society. Each paper is produced by a small staff, including a person with a disability as editor-in-chief. Each paper is a nonprofit and started up in the 90s; Access Press in 1990 and Dignity in 1998. Both papers will pay for articles, but Access Press pays a lump sum per article while Dignity pays by the letter.
By and For People with Disabilities
Even when the interview was technically over, the sharing of information did not stop. Between meetings, two of the Uzbekistanis had questions about how Benjamin’s disability had occurred; however, they questioned me instead of him—even though I told them he would not be offended by their questions. Instead, I told Benjamin about their interest and he addressed the subject in front of the whole group. While discussing it later, I said it was interesting that people who worked with people with disabilities would worry about openly discussing this topic. Benjamin, on the other hand, was surprised that it even mattered to them; he thought the more important point is how we live with our disabilities.
Beyond that, I was able to connect Khodjaeva with a Russian speaker on staff at the International Diabetes Center at Park Nicollet. She was pleased to make that connection for the future. Everyone got a tour of the Access Press office and a look at the layout of the next paper. However, the highlight seemed to be Benjamin’s computer and head-mouse, a pointing device which he uses in place of a hand-operated mouse. Although their harried driver was impatiently waiting to take them to their next stop, the group stalled him until they learned more about this technology that they had never seen before.