How we're making disability media, and how you can help
This time last year, I was doing the Debrief with support from one organization. I got up the courage to ask for help to keep it up.
I was blown away by the response. The Debrief has now gotten support from seven organizations and almost one hundred individuals. Your generosity and commitment to these issues made it possible to upgrade what we do.
This edition is about how, with your help, we went from an email with a list of links to becoming an online magazine. It's also about the importance of disability media and how it contributes to change.
And I'm asking for your support again. Let's do even more in 2023.
If you're able to, please join those supporting through:
- A monthly or annual subscription (monthly at £5, £10 or £20 or annually at £50, £100 or £200.)
- A custom donation of any amount, or institutional support from your organization.
- Sharing the newsletter so that more people find it.
Thanks to Lori and Ilene for the latest contributions!
Disability news in 2022
One of the things I like most about covering disability news is the range of issues it lets me look at. This year I've written about topics from ancient Egypt, to artificial intelligence, our past and our possible future.
As for our present, 2022 has been a bumpy year as we feel the shockwaves outward from over two years of the pandemic, global economic crisis, the war in Ukraine and impacts of quickening climate change. As well as long-term segregation from society, disabled people are often on the harsh end of the ways the world is changing, particularly notable in extreme weather shocks such as flooding or heatwaves.
We don't just stay with the hard times though. Whether through pride or punk, we look to the stars, binge-watch Argentinian TV, and celebrate love (“I have special needs for you”). And even in the face of war, we find poetry and art that witness, and challenge silence. It's one of the ways we make sense of the news.
Curation and reflection
Some things in this world can be made sense of in a database. Others benefit from less structure. To make sense of the news, the Debrief uses both ways in.
Since the start of the year a database of links had been powering news updates and the Debrief library was launched in August. Constantly growing, it already has 2000 links, organized across 57 subjects and 117 regions. It means that wherever or whatever you're interested in on disability, there's a place it's worth looking.
We also work hard to go outside of existing categories. We've reflected on how to approach advocacy, tokenistic inclusion, and being careful about resilience. We've heard from disabled people in Russia and Iran, and the interview series continues to give unique, in-depth access to the perspectives of those making change, whether in the Canadian Public Service, or communities in India.
“A revolution in disability information”
Readers have been very kind in describing how the Debrief contributes in their personal and professional lives. When I wrote about my experience in hospital, say, readers got back to share their own experiences and ask questions about how we make healthcare more inclusive.
The Debrief helps people who are pushing for change. It “really fills a gap in our sector”, according to Penny Innes, working on disability inclusion for the UK Government. Mosharraf Hossain, a global advocate, called it “a revolution in disability information”.
Making something that wasn't there before took us on a start-up adventure.
Making a space for disability media
To be able to do these things, the Debrief has become an emerging media platform. Put simply, this means we've had to find a way to get news to people, develop the capacity to be able to produce it, and secure the investments that make it happen.
Around the world in 120 days
We're getting the news to more people. Since its launch in August, the website has had 4,600 unique visitors. I'm floored to see that y'all haved visited from 120 countries, roughly a country for each day it's been live. The email list now has something over 1,800 subscribers, a more than 80% increase on this time last year.
At the start of the year, Yazmine Laroche set me a goal of 5,000 subscribers, and while it seemed impossibly far away at the time, the rate of increase suggests we will get there.
Making a team to build the news
The Debrief is no longer just made by me. Áine Kelly-Costello has done a series of features on the climate crisis and disability and the newsletter is made beautiful with illustrations from Tan Kuan Aw.
All three of us are disabled people, and we're living these issues. I write from England, Áine from Norway and New Zealand, and Kuan Aw illustrates in Malaysia. Before we came together here, each of us had already spent years trying to make change.
We're learning how to do this and it's been a steep learning curve. I've been trying to find an “ethical, joyful writing” and working behind the scenes, making a website, coding Python and MySQL, and more.
One of the reasons that we've had to learn is that this isn't being done elsewhere. For example, Áine on the importance of our disability and climate coverage:
“Despite a growing collection of resources in the area, it's still so rare for there to be an ongoing commitment to journalism on this essential beat. Personally, it's a privilege to work on it, challenging myself to make connections across complex policy, scientific and deeply human issues. I get to learn from, and weave in, the wisdom of disabled people especially from the Global South.”
Getting the resources to make it happen
One of the steepest learning curves for me has been in how to ask people to invest in disability media. Sure, as a freelance consultant I had my techniques to get clients (“my advice is that you need my advice”). But the Debrief's proposition is different, a pay-as-you-can funding model.
I ask for support from the readers and organizations who can contribute comfortably. Support from those who are able lets us continue to make a resource available to everyone. Nothing will be put behind a paywall. All the information will be free to everyone, forever.
In the last 12 months support came to almost £24,000 ($30,000 USD):
- 77% of the income came from organisations and 23% from individuals.
- 86% expense is for my time, 9% for contributors, 5% online services.
Your generosity transforms what we can achieve. Crowdfunding alone raised over £5,000, double what I'd dared to hope for. Contributions from individuals help makes a critical push in the gaps waiting for organisations to make decisions on funding. They also help me show potential donors the importance readers give this work.
A vision of what disability media can do
The Debrief aims to be an engaging and specialist online magazine, providing an insider's view, trusted reference, and bridge to wider audiences. It will contribute to tackling key challenges that we face in establishing the wellbeing and rights of disabled people.
We are gathering the evidence and knowledge on disability in a unique way, as well as finding new ways to communicate them. A space is kept for reflection and the hard questions that help a movement grow. Readers are “swept off around the world” with stories and experiences, and it's exposure to those personal stories which are the one of best ways of changing attitudes on disability.
I particularly hope to be able to bring in more perspectives into the Debrief, from readers and new contributors. The global story of disability can only be told through multiple viewpoints. Making this happen will continue our investment in skills, relationships and people.
Support in 2023
Grants from organizations working on disability inclusion means we can consolidate and develop what we're doing. Alongside continuing partnerships with Center for Inclusive Policy and Sightsavers, we're very happy to be able to welcome:
- Light for the World, an international disability and development NGO, will contribute to regular support of the Debrief.
- CBM Global Disability Inclusion will be supporting our reporting on the climate crisis. “CBM Global sees this work as a key resource and it shapes and contributes to our engagement in climate justice too.”
Furthermore, thanks to a new organizational subscription from Disability Rights Fund, and renewed support from Disability Policy Solutions.
Help me go all-in
After ten years working with the United Nations and different charities on disability, I see that the Debrief is the place that I can make the most difference in our mission of a world more fair and equal for disabled people.
Last year I spent the equivalent of two months full-time working on the Debrief. This year it was more like six. My side project has become the main deal. I work for you now, and I'd love to do that full time.
If you can join the readers and organizations supporting the Debrief, we'll be able to do even more.
Thank you for being part of this,
p.s. I love hearing from y'all, and your feedback is often as vital as the financial support in making this happen. Press reply on email, leave a comment, or find me on Linkedin and elsewhere.
Thanks to everyone who has given so much to help this newsletter grow.
Thanks to Áine for feedback that much improved a draft of this edition, and their contribution to the Debrief that goes far beyond just their own work.
Thanks to Tan Kuan Aw for the illustration of Santa.
I've learned so much this year from exchange with other folk who are also working in digital media or spreading the good word online.
In disability media (and beyond), there's lots of great folk who inspire through conversations, support and the examples of what they do. They include:
- Disability Justice Project from Jody Santos
- Sanity by Tanmoy by Tanmoy Goswami
- Crip News by Kevin Gotkin
- Disability News Digest by Raul Krauthausen
- Accessibility in the News by JackMcElaney
- Disability Media Wire by Steven Davis
- Old School from Ashton Applewhite
- Lens15 by Jason Strother
- The View from Down Here by Lucy Webster
- Aidnography by Tobias Denskus
- Unbias the News, who kindly republished Áine's work on COP27.
Outside of these, I've really benefited from the advice of Brendan Rodgers and Debra Ruh on spreading the good word to wider audiences.