Let's talk about disability in PR: Disabled employees are a nearly untouched pool of talent

Since being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of eight, I have always been hyper-aware of how it differentiated me from my peers.

No wheelchairs, no walking sticks, no hearing aid; where are the PR people with disabilities? asks Ashley Phillips
No wheelchairs, no walking sticks, no hearing aid; where are the PR people with disabilities? asks Ashley Phillips

As a kid, the other children would ask me if they could "catch" my diabetes, like a virus.

While as I got older the questions became less drastic, the lack of knowledge surrounding diabetes often remained the same.


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While the PR industry is making fantastic changes to become more inclusive, a specific experience made me aware of a group not being included in the ongoing trend of diversity – people with disabilities.

One summer, I struggled with extremely low morning blood sugars and requested from my internship to adjust my start time, which they happily obliged.

However, I received a backlash from other interns – including dirty looks and mean remarks – likely due to lack of understanding of my condition.

One day I found myself sobbing in the company bathroom, asking myself, "Where are the other people like me?"

Having worked in PR for almost five years, in the US and UK across various sectors, the question always remained the same.

Hauntingly, I have only met one other diabetic and have never met or seen anyone with a physical disability in PR.

No wheelchairs, no walking sticks, no hearing aids – the industry is lacking any types of employees with disabilities.

Worse than the lack of any noticeable disabilities, is the even larger lack of transparency or conversation.

After approaching some of the best-known PR companies in the UK about my research, a majority wouldn’t even speak about the topic and only one was willing to tell me how many disabled people were employed.

Personally I believe disability is considered to be a bit of a taboo topic in the industry, and because people aren’t sure how to handle or react to it, they instead ignore it.

Ashley Phillips, postgraduate student in PR and advertising at Richmond University

HR told me that, of more than 300 employees at the particular firm, not one of them were known to have a disability.

Personally, I believe disability is considered to be a bit of a taboo topic in the industry, and because people aren’t sure how to handle or react to it, they ignore it instead.

Being a diabetic in a fast-paced and competitive industry, I sometimes found myself at a crossroads following my past experience.

At times throughout the years, I’ve found myself struggling with low and high blood sugars and the dilemma of "can I stop what I’m doing at work to take care of myself and still make my deadlines?"

Similarly, I noticed some days there wasn’t time to take a lunch and that often my upper-level colleagues, that I so badly wanted to emulate and impress, worked through their lunch break or ate something small at their desk.

However, as a diabetic, this put me in a tough position of choosing between health and success.

With disabled employees being a nearly untouched pool of talent, the industry desperately needs to open its eyes and begin to talk about the topic of disability, from opening the conversation to inclusion.

The only problem public relations should have with disability is that it’s lacking employees with one.

Ashley Phillips is a postgraduate student in PR and advertising at Richmond University


Read next: Openly disabled PRs are rarer than likeable politicians

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