Disability and the inclusion agenda in PR

A black background with paper cut out people with different disabilities. Each is a different colour and they make up the colours of the rainbow together.

It feels remiss to not mark #NationalInclusionWeek with a blog on the forgotten sibling in public relations’ diversity agendas.

Usually falling after the final ‘and’ in a sentence, disability has always had to shout, stamp and push to be included in diversity discussions. My first industry blog on this was 2016 and in the intervening years it has felt, at times, grudgingly added. At others, added for clout and relevance without being given due care and thought, and on sadly rarer occasions disability has been welcomed in and given the space it deserves.

That last scenario has only really happened in the last couple of years and it’s Women of Colour who’ve primarily and consistently led the way putting disability topics, training, panels and discussions on event and course schedules and striving for disabled accessibility.

Events are a staple of the PR industry, from regular pub get togethers to award evenings, to learning and networking. This year is the first that I’ve seen multiple organisations and PR businesses commit to and publicly publishing their event disability access up front. At the same time I’ve seen diversity conferences with disability inclusion but zero accessibility information on event info. The situation overall feels like it’s moving in the right direction but the inclusion of disabled people is being limited by our issues with accessibility.

Prioritising accessibility can be challenging if resources are limited. It makes sense to focus on the obvious things, for example can disabled people get into the venue? Providing a quiet space in between sessions for those who get sensory overload, or overstimulated. Essentially the bits that are free or low cost and time efficient.

Accessibility which comes with a cost – both in terms of time and resource – is the next level of support which feels like the present hurdle for PR; booking live captioners, BSL, portable hearing loops, audio description (i.e. of slides), providing slides and event info in multiple formats. But without finding ways to get over this, the inclusion of disabled people in our industry will remain superficial at best.

(FYI – there are links two brilliant event checklist resources at the bottom of this blog.)

Everyday disability inclusion in PR

The history and story of disability inclusion PR is a contradictory tale. Way back in the 2013/14 CIPR State of PR Survey 30% of respondents said they disagreed with the statement that teams proportionally made up of disabled people would deliver effective campaigns. A further 31% didn’t know if they would. Only a third believed disability representation would lead to better campaigns. Jump forward to 2018 and 78% of PRCA Census respondents said there are no ‘significant obstacles’ to their organisation employing disabled people.

Cut to present day and the true picture is still unclear. The number of people (going by those who have disclosed a disability in an industry survey, because that’s the only data we have) with a disability working in PR is close to an all-time low at 5%, putting it under the 5000 people mark. Disabled people are hugely underrepresented as a group if we go by the data alone.

However this is where the sums start to look a little different. Not everyone with an impairment or long-term health condition considers themselves disabled. The language and limitation of the questions we’re asking in industry reports is potentially excluding a huge number of people. Take this recently release statistic from the State of Us, a soon to be launched PR network:

8 in 10 PR, marketing and comms people who disclosed a mental health challenge in the past year, felt discriminated by against colleagues for doing so.

Findings from a survey of 1,000 PR, marketing and comms professionals by Coleman Parkes Research commissioned for State of Us. 

If you have a mental health condition which lasts longer than 12 months and has a significant impact on your life, i.e. large enough to raise it with an employer, then it falls under the protection of The Equality Act 2010. In simple terms, an employee should be protected from discrimination under the protected characteristic of disability.

Our industry has been banging the drum about our worsening mental health statistics for the past few years. Add to this the increasing diagnoses of adult Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD and now, Long Covid, the reality about the number of people working in the sector with a disability or impairment starts to look a little different.

At the same time if those with mental health conditions are actively being discriminated against it raises questions about the extent of disability inclusion in PR. Both in terms of how disability is understood and how much progress we’ve really made since those opinions of 2013/14 were recorded.

Inclusion is for life not just for Christmas

Or for a random designated week of the year. Including disabled people in PR, comms and marketing teams, campaigns, social activities and events should be a consideration that’s as natural to us as asking for a brief, or a budget. With that in mind, here’s a challenge for you, starting next week, try to read one blog, article or guide on disability inclusion per week. Here are five suggestions to get you started:

  1. Making presentations accessible to visually impaired people – Link
  2. Disabled People’s Movement history Link
  3. Introductions to the social and medical models of disability – Link
  4. Life of Pippa – a blog on living with a chronic illness – Link
  5. Black disabled people who made their mark on history – Link

Resources for inclusive PR events:

Engaging with disabled people – An event planning guide, The European Human Rights Commission – Link Here

The DICE charter – Link Here

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