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An opioid epidemic. High smoking rates. Health care provider shortages. Indiana faces serious public health challenges. Side Effects Public Media provides in-depth coverage of these issues and more.

Disability Amid COVID Crisis Sparks Push For New Skills

What does an entertainment journalist do when he can’t cover events? Seth Johnson talks about his experience learning new skills — including creating radio diaries for Side Effects — during the pandemic. Part 1 of our Move to Include series on how people with disabilities are coping during this nationwide public health crisis. 


My name is Seth Johnson. I currently work as a journalist in the city of Indianapolis and have for about the past seven years. This week, I’m writing about a new coffee shop that’s opening up and a guy in Indianapolis that runs his own record label. I also am covering the Pacers, and the Pacers start the playoffs today. (Note: This diary was recorded in mid-August 2020.)

I have been visually impaired since the age of 5. My visual impairment was caused by a brain tumor, which damaged my optic nerve. That damage left me mostly blind in my right eye, and then I have about 20/400 vision in my left eye.

The reason I wanted to be a journalist goes as far back to when I was in high school. I knew I enjoyed writing, and there was something about showing other perspectives of the world to the broader public [that appealed to me]. 

I often have felt that I’m misunderstood. I’m in the entertainment and nightlife world. A lot of times I think people see me looking at things closely or see me putting things close to my face in order to see them, and they often assume there are issues with me. Sometimes they assume I’m just drunk. Sometimes they assume that I have a mental issue.

I’ve been a part of those judgments so many times. A lot of it probably comes with the territory of me writing about the topics I write about, and a lot of those topics are typically around nightlife and alcohol. But so often, people judge me in that way, and it can be really frustrating for me.

I would say the pandemic has impacted my life by putting so much of what I normally write about on halt. I’ve had to completely go back to square one, look at my skill set and use it to do other things. A lot of part-time jobs that others would maybe pick up in slow times like this are things I can’t really do because of my visual impairment, whether that be working in a kitchen, working at a cash register or driving Uber. I’ve had to really pivot with the skill set that I know I have in order to fill in the gaps of what I normally would be doing and what I normally would be making.

I’m hopeful that I can get back to having my steady slate of reporting on what I had been reporting on prior to the pandemic. But then, I’d also like to mix in some of these things that I’ve learned how to do in the meantime, as well as some of these things that I’ve learned I want to do more of, like reporting on people with disabilities or equality issues.

I’m still realizing now there were a lot of perspectives that I was leaving out, or not looking hard enough for. Going forward, I’d like to see myself in a position where I’m continuing to do the journalism work that I’m doing — taking parts of what I had been doing before and mixing that with what I’ve now learned I need to do more of.

This audio diary was produced by Colleen Pellissier for Side Effects Public Media, a Midwest news collaborative covering public health. It is part of the Move to Include initiative, which focuses on people with disabilities and the issues they face. The project is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.