Faaolo Utumapu-Utailesolo took her journalism career by storm – acquiring not one, but two degrees.
A degree in media and communications from Auckland University of Technology, and a master's degree in communications and media studies from Monash University.
An extraordinary pathway into the media, with a major defining factor – she’s blind.
Being a person who is blind in a newsroom is not without its challenges, but Faaolo has turned every obstacle into an opportunity to better her life and the lives others around her.
Now a renowned disability advocate across the Pacific, Faaolo has taken on ABC International Development’s recent Disability Inclusion in the Media Study as one of her latest ventures.
The research, supported by the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS), gathered qualitative interviews from participants in Fiji and Samoa about the experiences and challenges of people living with disabilities.
While conducting interviews, Faaolo discovered some common experiences among people with disabilities working in the media.
She says while most people in the industry support the push for inclusive newsrooms, the lack of resources proves to be the biggest hurdle.
“The cost of assistive devices that’s required to allow a person like me who is blind, or others with disabilities to work independently in a newsroom is expensive,” she says.
“It’s probably the biggest barrier for participation.”
Faaolo says there is a dire need for funding to be allocated fairly.
“Our economies and our newsrooms in the Pacific are quite limited,” she says.
Often attending events or news gathering can be difficult for journalists with disabilities.
Faaolo says basic architecture across the region can have design flaws, making it difficult to access.
“The other thing is the infrastructure of our countries in the Pacific, especially if a person with a disability is required to go out in the field," she says.
Key findings in the study revealed people with disabilities did not feel accurately represented in the media, and many media organisations did not have formal policies in place for inclusive recruitment and workplace practices.
The study revealed that while businesses are willing to employ people with disabilities, the lack of structures made it hard to provide a safe workspace.
“[Media organisations] are the ones who employ and take a chance on people with disabilities,” Faaolo says.
“It’s not really a surprise for me.
“They didn’t have the policies, but they have the willpower to provide reasonable accommodations to allow persons with disabilities to reach their dreams.”
Faaolo says it's important to challenge stereotypes, and building awareness and taking a strengths-based approach is essential in newsrooms.
She says learning about the person and focusing on their strengths is key to providing inclusive workplaces, not just in the media but in all industries.
Faaolo hopes the research has made it clear where newsrooms can improve and the necessary steps to take.
"My interest really is to ensure that this will be something that is made accessible and inclusive,” she says.
“That persons with disabilities who have a dream to become a media person or journalist can take on and be employed in the media industry in the Pacific.”
This study was completed as part of the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS), an Australian Aid initiative implemented by ABC International Development to support development of a more professional, resilient, and diverse Pacific media sector. Fostering disability inclusion in the Pacific media sector is a cross-cutting concern of the program.