Openly disabled PRs are rarer than likeable politicians

In an industry that's about perfection, image and reputation, disability is the name badge no-one wants to wear.

After almost 10 years in the PR industry I have never knowingly met another PR professional who has any kind of disability and that needs to change. 

I say knowingly because disability isn’t a big topic of conversation around the watercooler and with the CIPR’s State of the Profession 2015 report putting the figure of those working in the sector with a disability at just five per cent, it’s unsurprising that openly disabled practitioners are rarer than likeable politicians. 

In the past few years I’ve realised quite how ill-equipped the industry – particularly agency-side – is to welcome and support those who have a disability. 

There is a stark lack of conversation about inclusivity and how to create a positive culture around disabled PR professionals. 

There is an unspoken pressure and desire to present a ‘perfect team’ to potential and existing clients; not a team that consists of someone who lip-reads and has to change a hearing aid battery halfway through a meeting, another who is wheeled in through a doorway that is barely wide enough and one whose speech is affected by cerebral palsy. 

Be honest, does the latter sound like a team you’d be comfortable pitching to a client?

It’s ok to say no, because that’s how we kick-start this vital conversation, it’s our opening to start explaining why none of the above conditions, or any of the many others in the spectrum of disability make those team members ineffective. 

As public relations experts we help shape perception every single day yet, within our own industry, the subject of disability still feels like a campaign no-one is brave enough to take on.

As someone hard of hearing working in the sector, my life is filled with extra challenges that wouldn’t occur to most other people. 

For example, I prefer email because there’s a chance I’ll miss something during a telephone call, noisy restaurants or echoing spaces make it more challenging for me to contribute to the conversation, and I have to battle against people’s natural tendencies to cover their mouths while speaking because lip reading is a large part of how I hear. 

There needs to be a safe space for me – and others like me – to mention all of these things and more without being thought of as lesser, as a hassle, or as incapable of doing our jobs. 

Because the fact is, I and my five per cent brethren overcome all of this and still deliver.

The outward-facing PR industry is all about cultivating new, positive opinions and informing the debate. For disability diversity to be embraced within the sector we need to knock down the façade of perfection we so expertly cling to, take a hard look at our disability-free offices and start asking some difficult questions about just how accepting we really are. 

Sara Hawthorn is director of InFusion comms

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