Making inclusion business as usual

Making inclusion business as usual

When you think back over our experience of the pandemic so far, it is hard avoid bumping into the buzzwords. 2021 has been marked by many and frenzied discussions around topics such as representation and inclusion. And while there have been significant leaps and strides in these areas in the publishing industry - such as the landmark disability issue of The Bookseller – there’s a palpable worry that these advancements will be reversed or at least slowed as we move back to something more like ‘normal.’

So what can we do to make sure the progress around inclusion, specifically when it comes to disabled individuals, doesn’t get lost?

1. WFH and flexible working needs to be accepted as standard

Although there is now better legislation around offering flexible working arrangements, working from home has become somewhat of a polarising topic. In the media, we have heard a lot about ‘getting back to the office’ - including specific messages aimed at those under 25. Ostensibly working in an office has social benefits - and our peers apparently will talk about us behind our backs if we don’t.

The pandemic has been notable in showing that when there is a will, there is a way. While anecdotally the right to work from home had been asked for by various individuals for decades, many took to social media to express their frustration that this was only - and rapidly – made into a viable option for all due to the lockdown. Accessibility for things like online events certainly increased, but only seemingly because it was now important for people other than the disabled community to be able to attend virtually.

Flexible working and working from home needs to be accepted as standard, making it a culturally normalised concept. Jessica Kingsley Publishers is notable in championing flexible working - be it part time or through a job share. Enacting this change would start to unpick a barrier for a large demographic in publishing, one they have been fighting for so long.

2. Diversity schemes need to embrace neurodiversity and hidden disabilities

Tokenism seems to be the prevailing mood in some industries - and publishing is no exception. Can you think of a scheme for diversity representation that singularly addresses disability and is fully accessible? (So, disabled individuals doing the interviewing and the eventual hiring, basic adjustments being made at the point of interview as stipulated by the Equality Act and so on.) Nope, me neither.

Diversity schemes need to target disability more, or at least be intersectional in including this as a category on equal footing. The emphasis also needs to be on all disabilities; previously in applying for funds and grants, the implication in the rejection is that I have personally been ‘not disabled enough’. This needs to be dealt with.

3. Expect lived experience

Why is it that we are still relying on books about disability with authors who do not have lived experience?

Earlier this year I researched a piece around accessible cookbooks for disabled individuals that ultimately never made it to print; what was shocking about that was cookbooks deemed vaguely ‘acceptable’ relied on, wholly or in part, information that suggests you can cure disabilities through eating the right food. Others suggested that particular kinds of food were effectively ‘brain poison’, in creating a disability. Both such claims are complete nonsense, though ostensibly peddled by ‘experts’.

Alongside this, disability is so often viewed through the lens of a parent or career - and is even reflected societally at times. A parent or someone who offers the service of care may have some expertise in being an advocate or a paid for professional, but they do not have the lived experience of life with a disability. A recent example of this is, arguably, To Siri With Love - a book that, on release, inspired a huge backlash. Looking for first-hand accounts deliberately would ensure more disabled writers come forward across the board when it comes to publishing.

4. Adjust mainstream content to be accommodating

Cook As You Are by former "Great British Bake Off" finalist Ruby Tandoh was recently released - and it has received widespread praise, especially for the way the book is written to be incusive. There is a second, easy-read version available from Tandoh’s website, and the content is accommodating of disability - proving that mainstream cookbooks can without fuss be made relevant to anyone who ticks the box ‘other’.

Mainstream content can be easily adjusted to be accommodating for all - no one is losing out, and it’s also not censorship. Tandoh’s book is a prime example of how this can be done very easily; it shouldn’t be a revelation, but that is how it feels on reading.

While there are gradual changes, and some publishing companies are beginning to go in the right direction, changes need to be more wide-sweeping in order to be more accommodating and inclusive of disabled individuals. There are still some niches that have largely been left untapped, with potential for many stories to be harvested; disability is so often perceived through a lens of pity. Better representation has the power to change this, and we also need to unpick expectations in our workplaces and work cultures that have been set in stone for too long.

Lydia Wilkins is a journalist with bylines in the Independent, Readers Digest, Refinery 29 and others. She also writes a weekly newsletter for other individuals, like her, who are on the Autistic spectrum.