In a recent article by Bailey Martens, she describes the struggles she and others have faced being disabled as journalists and brings light to the importance of accessibility in the newsroom.
Martens did not have a one-off experience of inaccessibility. Rather, she suffered through many occasions where accommodations for people with disabilities were nonexistent. She was forced to sit in a hallway when the doors were not wide enough and left stranded when accessibility buttons were turned off or left broken and unrepaired during the pandemic.
“How could I possibly feel like I belong in an industry where I can’t even get in the door?” says Martens.
Martens is not the only journalist with disabilities navigating the industry. Graham Isador, a contributing editor at GQ, has the progressive eye disease keratoconus. He reveals that because his disability is not as visible as other disabled people, he often gets criticized for any mistakes in his work.
Isador shares that his struggles were only emphasized by the COVID-19 pandemic. It forced him to be a part of more video calls, which were hard on his eyes. Employees of his do not remember his condition and accommodations, and he is constantly forced to fight for the accommodations he deserves. This is especially difficult in the newsroom environment as new people are regularly introduced.
“It’s difficult to have to constantly remind people that you need certain things in order to be able to be treated equitably,” he said.
During the hiring process, applicants disclose the accommodations they need to their potential employers, and many are afraid it will work against them. Lenny, who is choosing to not use their real name to remain anonymous, struggled with this fear. They have bipolar II and generalized anxiety order, and they worried their need for accommodations would hurt their application. They explain that even though they can get the work done on time, they just need to complete it in a different way from others.
Lenny typically chooses to wait a few months before disclosing their condition, feeling like they have earned their worth at that point. Furthermore, they often opted to be a freelancer to provide themselves the flexibility to get what they need.
However, freelancing is not a possibility for every journalist with disabilities. It often does not come with the health insurance people need. It is also tricky figuring out what health insurance will pay for with accommodations, and what they will not. Being a disabled person often comes with a hefty price tag, and it’s unclear whether newsrooms will cover vital medical equipment such as wheelchairs, shower chairs, walkers, and more. Not to mention that a lot of journalism jobs require fieldwork, meaning journalists have to get to places for their job, and there’s no guarantee that accommodations will be provided to get them there.
There are too many occasions where disabled journalists are not getting the accommodations and care that they need. Industry professionals may not be thinking about how their lack of accommodations contributes to ableism, and so it is time to open up the conversation. As Martens says, accessibility is not one-size-fits-all, but that does not mean there should not be efforts to improve the workplace environment for those that are disabled.