Being a Disabled Writer During a Pandemic: how this year has impacted my career

Updated: Mar 9

We're all in limbo, a year after the world plunged into lockdown for the first time. Overnight, the arts ceased to exist. Theatres closed their doors, publications went on hiatus, and publishers pushed back their schedules – leaving writers adrift in unknown waters. Many who live hand-to mouth suffered financial catastrophe, not helped by the blundering government neglecting to offer help to those who fell between the cracks of qualifying for the paltry support of Universal Credit, and being a registered business.

Thankfully help did come, in the form of the SEISS grant for freelancers, and hardship funds by the likes of Creative Scotland and The Society of Authors. I was awarded just over £500 for my first (and subsequent) instalment. It felt good – because since the breakdown in my health four years ago, and new diagnoses (I have Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, fibromyalgia, generalised anxiety disorder and I'm neurodivergent) I've found it incredibly tough to earn a living. The silver lining of quitting my role as an events and PR executive was that I could focus on developing my writing career. The not so silver lining is that it takes time to build traction, recognition and payment for this work. Particularly as I have to pace to manage my illnesses.

Four years on, and it turns out the SEISS grants and new opportunities of this last year will accumulatively have paid me more than my earnings from my writing in the prior three years (ouch). This is the thing – disabled people have been told for so long that our needs simply cannot be accommodated. Until a pandemic forces hands and accessibility becomes the new normal. (Are you blushing? You should be.) So what does all this shiny new access mean for me? Along with the accolades I've accumulated for my writing in the last couple of years, I now had a wealth of free, online opportunities to develop my craft. To speak about my work. To teach others. Connect with a global audience and writing community. The pandemic has, no understatement, catapulted my career to a point that likely would have taken another couple of years on my own steam as a disabled writer on low income. It's important that this does not change. Harry Josephine Giles and Sasha Callaghan along with Arts Collective published a disabled artists manifesto, Not Going Back to Normal, to highlight the exponential increase in accessibility and inclusion in the wake of this global reckoning - and to demand that we only go forward from here.

Finding disability, equality, access and inclusion increasingly influencing my writing, I decided in 2019 to offer accessibility consultancy to literary events and organisations. I aim to improve access and inclusion by addressing concerns raised by organisations and individuals in providing good access, and fostering the idea that access should be integrated into all programming and planning from the off – and not as an after thought, as it so often is.

Disabled people make up 20% of the world's population (that's the population of China) and yet we're in fewer than 5% of books published. Not much more than that in our workforces. It's time we took meaningful steps to making publishing inclusive to all. Get rid of elitist gate-keeping and seek to nurture disabled writers (and employees) who have a story to tell. It's time we realised that disabled people have worth and a valuable contribution to make.

Find out more at:

Please take a minute to fill out this survey about your experience as a disabled person working in publishing – it's for employees, jobseekers and freelancers – and it's run by publishing lecturer Cat Mitchell:

*I'm currently working on launching a large-scale project in partnership with Ever Dundas, to bring real, lasting change to the industry. Watch this space and feel free to get in touch.

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