National Disability Independence Day: How the pandemic has made journalism more accessible
It’s National Disability Independence Day, a time to commemorate the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. This act provides protection and prohibits employment discrimination and guarantees access to education, transportation, and other services. It is a day to raise awareness and celebrate independence for those with disabilities in the workplace, and to consider how we can continue to grow and improve accessibility and inclusion.
The pandemic has negatively impacted and been a real struggle for those with disabilities worldwide; with reduced access to routine health care and rehabilitation and the adverse social and financial effects and efforts to mitigate the pandemic. It, however, has changed the way newsrooms operate, with the transition of working at the office to now Zoom calls and working from home. This change meant that those who previously struggled with accessibility such as public transport or travelling to places to report from, have been given an unprecedented chance to work within journalism without facing limitations.
Our Commissioning Editor and journalist, Amber Sunner, recently discussed her experiences of completing her journalism degree during the pandemic, and the positive impact the pandemic has had on accessibility in her blog – The pandemic has made journalism more accessible for me.
Amber says: “Journalism’s adaptation to the pandemic has made the industry far more accessible for me. As someone who needs regular rests due to health complications, being on location for hours on end is something that I just can’t do. But with the acceptable Zoom substitutions as a result of the pandemic conducting journalism has become easier.”
Amber also discusses how she had directly benefitted from the Zoom allowances in her journalism degree, as she was able to conduct interviews from home without the stresses and exhaustion from travelling long distances. She also reiterated how communicating via Zoom eradicated travel restrictions and limitations and meant that she was able to speak to a diverse range of people from all over the country.
Amber believes that the pandemic has positively impacted journalism, demonstrating its adaptability and how working from home will increase the opportunity to diversify the media.
“By making newsrooms more accessible in this way, the quality of stories being produced will rise rapidly. Newsrooms need diversity to appeal to the largest audience they can,” she explains.
Another journalist who has been advocating for newsrooms to be more flexible with their work from home arrangements even pre-pandemic is Rachel Charlton-Dailey. She is a freelance journalist and writer who specialises in health and disability. In her article –Working from Bed Isn’t Lazy — It’s Accessible, she speaks about how a full-time office job was no longer an option for her after years of perseverance, and how unfortunately her chronic fatigue and ability to catch every bug made it almost impossible. She speaks about her experiences before the pandemic and the lack of flexible working:
“I applied for full-time journalism jobs, too, but every employer told me it was essential that I work from the office. So, I took control of my own story, and I carved out a successful career as a freelancer…You can imagine my frustration when it suddenly became the norm for everyone to work from home during the pandemic. The companies that told me for years that it was impossible were now boasting about how accommodating they were.” – Healthline
Charlton-Dailey openly speaks about her daily struggles with arthritis, osteoporosis, lupus, and endometriosis pain. She highlights how sitting at her desk is too unbearable and how her decision to work from bed is easier for her body to manage and wants to raise awareness and to eradicate and disprove negative and hurtful societal views about working from home, and particularly from bed. She feels as it is “internalised ableism made me feel like I had to work at a desk, because working from bed was lazy and meant I was just lying in bed all day” – Healthline
Ability Today, YouTube
The pandemic has also made learning opportunities more accessible for disabled journalists. For example, the charity Ability Today created the Academy for Disabled Journalists (ADJ) during the pandemic which provides online courses in partnership with NCTJ. This enables students across the UK to attend training which they would have struggled to do previously, and provides a fantastic opportunity to diversify the media.
For decades disabled journalists have lost out on major opportunities because of the lack of flexible and adaptable working options. However, the pandemic has not only broadened work prospects, but has given greater learning opportunities to disabled people. The media industry has exemplified how adaptable it can be, and has demonstrated how newsrooms and publications can (and should) continue to offer flexible and working from home options. This will benefit disabled journalists by making the industry more accessible and will ultimately diversify and improve media coverage worldwide.
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Organisations and charities to support people with disabilities: