Better support for disabled people in publishing


The latest meeting of the IPG’s Diversity and Inclusivity Action Group on 22 November discussed the important issue of supporting disabled people in publishing and workplaces. Our guest speaker was Kate Nash OBE, the creator and CEO of membership organisation and networking hub Purple Space and the author of Positively Purple: Build an Inclusive World Where People with Disabilities Can Flourish, available from IPG member Kogan Page.

Here’s a summary of key points and practical advice from Karen’s session and the discussion that followed.

We can’t second-guess the experiences of others.

It can take a long time to make sense of a life experience like disability. It covers a complex range of experiences: no two of them are the same and all are valid. Many people will encounter changes in their identities during their working life as well as before. People react to the experiences of disability in different ways, but we should all be alert to the changing identities and needs of disabled people in the workplace.

Understand workplace adjustments.

All workplaces can hardwire the needs of disabled people into day-to-day operations by establishing good practical processes for workplace adjustments. Doing so means businesses are ready to make the changes—like investing in software and making all content accessible—that help disabled employees.

Allies have a powerful role to play.

‘Purple allies’—individuals who work proactively and energetically in support of disabled people—are crucial. Not all businesses can build a formal programme of allyship, but everyone can consider what they could do to support people around them, and to make it known they are an ally.

Be the best leader you can.

Leaders and managers can integrate support of disabled people by including their needs at appraisals. This approach can be applied across the board to ensure employers are supporting the specific needs of others, like parents, patients and people of faith. Making this a routine part of leadership helps businesses attract and retain the best employees.

Showcase your talent.

Publishing has a great opportunity to share the stories of disabled people that might otherwise be hidden. Showcase talent so it’s easier for others to see your commitment to creating an equitable and accessible workplace.

Tell disabled writers’ stories.

Publishers are uniquely placed to change hearts and minds by sharing the experiences of disabled people. Helping them articulate their stories through books improves visibility and understanding and creates a more representative output in publishing.

Appreciate different experiences.

When telling disabled people’s stories, it’s important to remember the huge variety of experiences and attitudes. As well as challenges and hard experiences, there are plenty of positive, humorous and exciting narratives to convey.

Cement remote working.

Who knew it would take a pandemic to show that remote working is so easy and positive? Employers need to preserve and promote the best features of it now that restrictions have ended, and challenge whether fixed models of working are appropriate anymore. As well as being morally right, accommodating remote worker can help to attract talented new members of staff who aren’t able or willing to commit to a fixed workplace.

Think about a buddy system.

Partnering new disabled employees with other members of staff can be very helpful, especially for people in the early stages of their careers and working remotely. Checking in regularly and asking questions will make people more comfortable and confident about expressing their needs.

Don’t be afraid of conversations.

Changes like all these can be challenging, but it’s OK to think out loud and ask questions. Facing up to things like the need for workplace adjustments or new training and inductions for remote workers might require investment, but it’s worth it. It’s healthy to have honest conversations to set expectations for both employees and employers.

More resources

Kate Nash offers much more advice for employers in her book Positively Purple: Build an Inclusive World Where People with Disabilities Can Flourish. IPG member Kogan Page is offering a 35% discount on the book as part of its Black Friday sale until Friday 30 November; enter FLASH35 at checkout to get it.

Members at the DIAG meeting recommended the That Thing Called Inclusion podcast for anyone wanting to know more about disability and employment; and Out of Office by Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Peterson for more about new working practices.

For examples of ally and storytelling programmes in businesses, see Barclays’ This is Me and Unilever’s I Am Me.

A recording of the Diversity and Inclusivity Action Group meeting can be viewed here.