Navigating Disability in the Publishing Industry

01 August 2023 | Inclusive Journalism Cymru

Finding any paid job in publishing – whether that’s content creation, journalism, editing, reviewing, books or magazines – can feel like you’re searching for the Holy Grail. It’s not news to anyone that the arts are underfunded, a lot of publications are struggling in these hard times, and entry level job opportunities or paid internships are few and far between. So now imagine trying to apply for jobs like these when you’re disabled. Caveats like ‘must work full time’, ‘must commute to London’, ‘must have X, Y and Z experience’ can be impossible for disabled people. It limits our already limited opportunities. And if you are lucky enough to find a role that suits you, navigating accessibility can be a minefield – and learning curve – for both you and your employers. I know because I’ve been there. 

I only recently started labelling myself as ‘disabled’ because I have what is known as “invisible disabilities” which are not clearly visible from the outside. For a long time I’ve been aware of my mental health issues and how much they impact and limit my daily life, but even then I thought that wasn’t enough to label myself as disabled. When I was recently diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue, I finally gave myself permission to recognise that I am disabled and can’t do everything that able-bodied people can do. I actually do need adjustments and accommodations and if I do not recognise this then I will burn myself out.

Because I was so new to it, I initially found it challenging to navigate being disabled in the workplace. At first I didn’t know how to ask for accommodations. Instead I would just beat myself up for struggling with work and push myself to breaking point. I quickly realised that this was not sustainable and if I was to protect my wellbeing in work then I needed some advice. I talked to friends and colleagues who also had invisible disabilities and asked about their experiences in work. I found out that I wasn’t alone. They had also been through this and showed me reasonable adjustments I could ask for, like regular check-ins with my manager, flexible hours, hybrid working, and a traffic light system (where you indicate to your manager how you are feeling that day and what your capacity is).

"I talked to friends and colleagues who also had invisible disabilities and asked about their experiences in work. I found out that I wasn’t alone."

Kaja Brown


I wouldn’t have thought of asking for these things before, as in our capitalist society we are all expected to work in the same way for maximum productivity. But actually I have found that when I was given these adjustments I was able to do a lot more work. Since I wasn’t burning myself out, I had more capacity to complete my tasks. Although this might sound counterintuitive, I found that when I worked less hours (thus conserving energy) I completed tasks early and often asked for more. So, it is not true that adjustments such as working less hours equals less productivity. 

Another thing my friends introduced to me for the first time were access documents. These are: “a document that outlines your disability access needs. You might make one so that you can give it to galleries/institutions/organisations when you start working with them on a project, such as a gallery you’re doing a show at for example, to let them know what you need them to facilitate to make sure you have equal access to work.” I found a lot of useful information on how to make one on this website. Access documents are useful as you can outline all your accessibility needs in one place so that you can send it to multiple potential employers. I have already found mine useful as it helps communicate your needs clearly with employers and means you know what to expect of each other. 

Getting employed at all, however, is another issue. As mentioned, arts jobs are scarce, and a lot of them are found in London. This might mean that when you do finally get work in the arts or publishing you may feel obliged to feel grateful and hesitate to ask for accommodations. It can be intimidating bringing these things up with a potential employer and it can make you feel like a burden. But you are not a burden. Under the Equalities Act, “Employers must make reasonable adjustments to make sure workers with disabilities, or physical or mental health conditions, are not substantially disadvantaged when doing their jobs.” It is your right to ask for accommodations.  

Whenever you state your needs in the workplace, you are pathing the way for other disabled people to do the same. The more of us that bring up these issues, the more aware employers become, and the better off the next employee has a chance to be. So really you are doing something incredible, not only by advocating for yourself, but for the wider community too. Disabled rights are human rights, and they apply to publishing just as much as anywhere else.

You can follow Kaja on Twitter or Instagram.