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Making Space For Disabled Freelancers Is More Important Than Ever Before

In this sponsored post, co-founder of The Disability Collab Lydia Wilkins discusses how disabled freelancers are often left out of journalism and how they plan to change that.

“Just communicate better.” “You should be more sociable.” “You’re not disabled – you can talk to me!” “You’re, like, so inspiring for all that you do!” “Can you grow your arms back?” “Disability isn’t part of our diversity strategy, not this year at least.” *Ghosts your job interview on mentioning of a disability* 

If you’re a disabled person who’s tried to work a conventional office job, you’ve probably experienced comments like this – comments which can wear you down over time, on a very surface level. 

The topic of ‘reasonable adjustments’ is still being contested after all this time – even when it comes to something simple and basic like having an accessible toilet. Asking for an adjustment is sometimes seen as something to respond in a hostile manner to, because God forbid something basic and inexpensive actually costs a business money. 

Emotional labour and all the costs associated with that are automatically assumed to be incumbent on the employee – and you’d be lucky if the time taken actually has an impact, with your organisation actually taking into account what you have to say. 

This may come across as very cynical – but I have been freelance for all of my journalistic career so far, as a necessary by product. 

I believe in the Fourth Estate being a watchdog for the underdog, the marginalised and underrepresented; cuttings and books by journalists like Nick Davies littered my bedroom as I grew up, drawn to stories that fulfilled such a criteria. 

Journalism is not a diverse career – we all know that. The late great Harold ‘Harry’ Evans had privately told me that being Autistic was my asset, and that there was no crime in being ‘obsessional’ in pursuit of a story or tracking down documents needed to verify and justify. 

My ‘weirdness’ has felt like a crime for much of my career – most of the comments in the introduction to this are from my own experience, largely from editors desperate to prove how diversity friendly they are. 

Disability is not a crime, and making space for disabled freelancers is becoming crucial. We hear how ‘media is dying’ – print sales are down, traffic is not sustainable, websites close often. But a press that we truly deserve is one that reflects those that it reports on, and with nuance. The same old stories are retold time and time again – yet we wonder why an audience wanders off elsewhere, bored and looking for something else.

My friend and fellow disabled freelance journalist Eloise Barry and I had been discussing our collective experiences via Whatsapp – and we found so many shared universal themes. The frustration was amplified by hunting for the next story, the next commission, the next job, all made harder by the pandemic. 

What if we could do something about that? And something that actually helped people while we were working, too?  You’re The Business by Anna Codrea Rado outlines how millionaires have multiple passive income methods – and that planted an idea for a project. A collective of people will always be more powerful when brought together, after all. 

There is a power in bringing people together, to advocate and demand what is needed. It just needs to be done in the right way, to encompass as many people as possible. Newsletters are really popular right now, a relic of a blogging long form era gone by. But what if we incorporated a podcast, a voluntary mentor programme and other such resources to create a mini official organisation? 

Izzie Jani-Friend came on board soon after, followed soon after by Hannah Shewan Stevens. In the weirdest coincidence, Izzie had actually bought a podcast microphone around the same time. 

Working across Zoom and different timelines, this was a case of writing the rules for ourselves this time; no idea is to big or too small, accessibility and support needs are at the heart of our values, enough so we block record podcast episodes, guests determine how long they talk for, and so much more. 

A pandemic means we have time now we didn’t have before; it has been horrible for most that fall under the title of the disability community, which I’d count myself to be a part of. I have a degree of privilege in that I can walk and talk – my voice and position can be used to support those who need it, just by making space. And I know that the other three behind The Disability Collab would also agree. 

The Disability Collab incorporates a podcast and a fortnightly newsletter. We are also in the process of putting together a mentoring programme and other ventures further down the line. 

Disability is so often left out of diversity criteria, which is typically not executed in an intersectional manner either; we have deliberately planned to contradict this, too. 

A podcast guest thanked me privately after recording her episode, suggesting one day I’d take over the world – and I was so very nearly reduced to tears. Human beings get things wrong, but trying to do the right thing matters. 

Making space for disabled freelancers is more important than ever before – and we hope to at least start that conversation. 

The Disability Collab podcast goes out every monday at lunchtime, this week’s guest is our very own founder and editor-in-chief Rachel Charlton-Dailey and you can listen here. The Disability Collab Newsletter goes out fortnightly. You can also follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

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