MPC Research Roundup – Spring 2016

By: Josephine Lim, MPC ’16

More Than 1,000 Words: Visual Narrative Structures in CDC Instagram Posts During the 2014-15 West African Ebola Crisis

Based on the CDC’s Instagram posts during the Ebola crisis, Jeff Junke’s MRP found that the organization was more concerned with showcasing the capabilities of its staff and “the protection of American citizens in North America over those suffering in affected African countries,” writes Junke. Junke’s MRP identified six visual storyline types within the organization’s Instagram posts and only one of those structures “showed a direct connection to broad health activities.” This includes activities such as working at labs in sanitation clothing and using handwashing stations. The others showcased CDC workers doing different tasks, such as giving presentations or working with other Africans, who could be healthcare workers. His MRP found that the organization’s Instagram narrative followed the tradition of public health visual communication where the staff’s work was primarily presented to be visually pitched to the American public.

Key takeaway: The CDC appears to be a noble organization, but “the CDC’s role is likely more concerned with the protection of American citizens and, indeed, its own image,” says Junke, than with those suffering in affected regions.


Access denied: Exploring web accessibility standards and their implications for users with cognitive impairments

Matthew Mendonca’s MRP discovered that the WCAG 2.0 Guidelines, universal web accessibility guidelines, better address the needs of users with sensory disabilities than those with cognitive disabilities. His research found that there was a lack of language and “conceptual organization” within the guidelines, and if it was addressed, it was categorized as a low priority change. Mendonca emphasized that while a website may meet web accessibility guidelines, it does not mean it is accessible to those with cognitive disabilities. Furthermore, many organizations strive to satisfy basic accessibility criteria that allow those with sensory disabilities to utilize the website, but this doesn’t include many of the features needed by cognitively impaired users.

Key takeaway: There is a need for WCAG guidelines to update its criteria to include users with cognitive disabilities, and there is a need by those within the web industry to “broaden the perception of ‘inclusive design,’” writes Mendonca.


Communicating illness: Depictions of mental illness and cancer in Canadian news media

Samantha Sexton’s MRP discovered that the Toronto Star’s and the Globe and Mail’s coverage of mental health could be supporting stigma around the issue. The most common metaphor associated with mental illness was “a loss of control” and it was framed as a “hopeless, personal affliction,” writes Sexton. Stories on this topic were typically linked to crime. Sexton found that this drastically differs from the depiction of cancer within these two newspapers. Cancer was most commonly associated with war metaphors and articles framed stories as “illness that can be heroically battled collectively.” Cancer articles typically detailed new research discoveries and patients were quoted more frequently within articles, which allowed them to choose how to portray the illness.

Key takeaway: Sexton believes that “a greater effort must be made to publish stories of personal experience and research to balance out the frequent crime articles that are present in the mental illness discourse.”