Finding a place for disability in publishing

People who are higher up in business, they’re used to seeing disability in a certain way: a lot of them are older, and a lot of them are white males, and they see the handicap in some way because of their origin. said Madison Parotta, who works at Includes Publishing. “This is not how people with disabilities should be treated; they just see us as disposable.

Parotta participated in a number of publishing internships in college and said she felt overqualified for agent assistant jobs, but was rejected for other gigs due to ‘disabilities. She is also part of a group, Disability in Publishing, which formed in 2021 and seeks to drive change in an industry that has historically excluded employees with disabilities.

Ismita Hussain is an Associate Officer for Great Dog Literary who also serves as the External Relations Manager for Disability in Publishing. The group recently launched a website that offers resources, including a job board, and plans to produce an accessibility guide for employers. Hussain said Disability in Publishing was created to fill an advocacy gap in the industry. “There have always been people with disabilities in the publishing industry, just like in any other industry. And until now, there hasn’t been an organization created just to support publishing professionals, rather than, you know, writers with disabilities.

People with disabilities are underrepresented in publishing. The UK Publishers Association’s 2021 Diversity Survey found that 13% of respondents identified as having a disability, up from 2% in 2017. The 2019 Diversity in Publishing Survey from Stateside, Lee and Low Books found that 11% of respondents identified as having a disability. For context, the US disabled population is estimated at over 26%, according to the CDC.

Of the more than 15 people – at different stages of their careers – contacted for this story, most expressed the same concerns about publishing: too much work for too little money and a poor work-life balance. . Another key issue for disabled publishing workers in the United States is the precarious health care that comes with the job. Some made career decisions based almost entirely on the health care support they could get.

Miranda Stinson, who is a founding member of Disabled People in Publishing, said the financial and time pressures of being in the industry are compounded by the fact that coming out as disabled can be difficult in the world of editing. “There’s definitely a culture of ‘you don’t disclose’ and, I think, a fear that if you do, there will be repercussions. But also, over time, it kind of became clear to me that it’s like, ‘Well, you don’t mask yourself very well anyway, everyone knows something is going on, they don’t just don’t know what to do if you don’t say so.’ ”

For those trying to break into the industry, like GiannaMarie Dobson, “the pace of industry is incompatible with life.” She said the core of the problem is not just that she can’t afford to leave her family in North Carolina to move to New York – although that certainly plays a role – but that the sum of money needed to become a part of the industry is unobtainable. “Until wages rise enough that even able-bodied workers can support themselves, people with disabilities will be pushed out. If able-bodied workers cannot afford rent, how can people with disabilities afford to live, to fill their prescriptions, to maintain their mobility aids, to go to specialists, to go to the emergency room, to buy safe food to eat? The tourist tax is real. (“The tourist tax” refers to the additional costs of being a disabled person.)

For Parotta, the simple act of sending a cover letter is something that she says opens her up to discrimination. “I’m not saying I’m disabled. But when I write my cover letters, I talk about my passion for disability and raising children and how we need to see that. [representation] After. And how, if they hired me, I would want to make it a priority as I progress through the company. I think that’s what really turns people off.

Because of these barriers, like in many other industries, some people with disabilities have taken matters into their own hands. Emily Keyes, who runs her own literary agency, is one such person. She has worked for L. Perkins Agency, Fuse Literary and Simon & Schuster since earning a master’s degree in publishing from NYU, but came out on her own in 2021. She said her disability made her persistent. “I said to one of my clients, ‘I don’t have any other skills.’ Like, this is what I’ve been heading for for so long and what I wanted to do. Maybe a wiser person would have taken a plan B, but I always refused to do so.

Keyes believes one of the reasons she was able to forge her career was because she was grounded in the publishing world before she was diagnosed and had an empathetic boss as she navigated her initial understanding. of his disabilities. “I think I was lucky to have been diagnosed after being in publishing and…I won’t say I was proven, but I had a sales track record and the people knew who I was.

Like many people contacted for this article, she said accommodations like remote working have opened doors for her. Yet many companies still put discriminatory elements in their job postings. Keyes pointed to a lack of pay transparency and also added, “A lot of entry-level editorial positions will say you need to be able to carry 25-pound or 50-pound boxes of books. And that would exclude a lot of people with physical disabilities. And, in my experience working with a publisher, someone could haul them to the mailroom for you.

Many people with disabilities in the industry believe that editing is missing out by excluding them. For Stinson, increasing the number of officers with disabilities would mean opening the door to another view of disability. “Publishing wants a certain type of story about disability, and they want an inspirational story or a story about acceptance,” she said. “I think a bit like queer editing, in fact, it often boils down to ‘Everyone is different and special’, which is true but not necessarily helpful. And I think officers with disabilities are more open basically of the situation. “

According to Parotta, the industry is losing talent because those in entry-level positions see the need for change, but their bosses don’t. She said the industry could really use the network of contacts that many people with disabilities cultivate to live their lives. “There is quite a large disabled community there. And I feel like they’re being ignored. I feel that these contacts would certainly be an asset to the publishing community.

A version of this article originally appeared in the 11/7/2022 issue of Weekly editors under the title: Finding a place for the disabled in publishing

About Florence M. Sorensen

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