The journalism industry is notoriously hard to break into. For journalists with disabilities, even more barriers exist.
Originally launched in 2014, Ability Today is a U.K.-based platform that publishes news, spotlights research, and builds pathways for journalists with disabilities.
“We try to cover stories that are about personal stories, personal triumphs, research, anything relevant to a disabled person to help enhance their lives,” said Ability Today founder Grant Logan.
I spoke with Logan about Ability Today and how accessibility and opportunities for journalists with disabilities are expanding:
Logan, who himself has a spinal cord injury he sustained in a road accident 20 years ago, originally named his outlet, “Disability Today.” He rebranded to Ability Today in 2019, feeling it better reflected the platform’s ethos of highlighting positive developments, advances in disability research, and community advocacy.
“[At first] it was just myself and my laptop finding news from around the world on different disabilities. If someone wrote an article about muscular dystrophy in Australia, it would pop into my inbox and I would push that on to the community,” said Logan.
Ability Today’s flagship initiative today is its Academy for Disabled Journalists. The Academy was inspired by a program Ability Today ran in 2018 called Roving Reporters, which encouraged journalists to produce stories on any topic, for instance public transport accessibility and indoor skydiving. The Academy launched two years later, in 2020.
“Fast forward to now, and I think we have just under 100 disabled students out that are currently studying or have gone through the Academy,” said Logan. Students from the Academy work for the BBC and ITV, and have had articles published in well-known publications including Glamour UK and Metro.
Building journalists’ skills
Traditional workplaces and schools often lack resources and accommodations for students with disabilities. Indeed, in one study 27% of respondents said their workplaces in the U.K. lack wheelchair access. With Ability Today, students access their courses online, with transcripts provided for the virtual classes.
The Academy encourages students to pursue stories that interest them, in an industry in which journalists with disabilities may find themselves assigned stories exclusively about disability.
“Disabled journalists don't want to be pigeonholed in the disability sector. A lot of our journalists in the Academy don't necessarily want to report on disability issues all the time. It shouldn't always be ‘we've got a story on disability, so we'll give it to that disabled reporter,’” said Logan.
Skills taught in the Academy are meant to ensure journalists enter the industry with practical experience. The platform’s partnerships also mean that students are often connected with practicing journalists in well-regarded organizations.
“We are creating working partnerships with News UK, NewsQuest and other publications, in fact CNN have just had a diversity and inclusion open day where we had two of our students go along,” said Logan.
In January 2023, Ability Today developed another initiative for journalists interested in search engine optimization (SEO) to increase content visibility and site traffic. The Academy for Disabled SEO Specialists teaches students skills including content optimization and keyword research.
One positive consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic has been offices’ embrace of remote work and learning, noted Logan. This is particularly relevant for journalists with disabilities in the U.K., where many industry jobs are based in London.
Though primarily a local initiative, the Academy is open to journalists with disabilities based abroad. Increasingly in fact, international applicants are being accepted. Students and alumni include applicants from Kenya, the Philippines and Romania.
Although Logan feels that journalists with disabilities enjoy improved employment prospects and media coverage, there is still a lack of journalists with disabilities in decision-making roles.
“We've only just really opened the door in the last few years, and we're at the start of this journey,” he said. “We are starting to see more and more journalists and TV presenters, but there's still a massive lack of talent behind the scenes, [including] newsrooms, and production companies.”
Ability Today has plans to offer more courses moving forward, and launch a bookkeeping academy.