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Real Talk Blog: Disability Inclusion in Public Relations

By OCPRSA’s Diversity Committee

In honor of October being National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we will be featuring thoughts from Kristen Parisi—a public relations executive and freelance journalist in a wheelchair—in this month’s “Real Talk” blog.

In 1990, Kristen was involved in a car accident where she suffered a spinal cord injury and has been in a wheelchair ever since. “I use a piece of equipment to get around and still have to frequently deal with the ignorance of others, but my life is otherwise amazing and I feel incredibly lucky… I can’t wait for what comes next. Chair and all,” said Kristen on her website.

She currently serves as Senior Account Executive at Allison + Partners in New York, and has authored numerous pieces about disability inclusion in public relations. Her contributing articles were so compelling that we wanted to share some highlights with our OCPRSA family for this month’s diversity blog.

Highlights from PRsay’s “D is for Diversity. And Disability”:

Shining light on what the disabled can bring to public relations

“What normally comes to mind when I think of ‘diversity’ in the workplace is gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. What’s not normally thought of is the disabled professional – even as a person in a wheelchair myself, it’s not something that automatically comes to my mind.

“This is disappointing because although vastly underrepresented, physically disabled public relations professionals can be an asset to an agency:

They’re persistent – Like any minority, disabled people are used to hearing the word ‘no’ way more than ‘yes.’ The first 30 reporters said no to an interview? No biggie, there’s still another 10 that might say yes.

New ideas are brought to the table – Everyone has different life experiences that have potential to add value to an agency. Just like the coworker who switched careers on their journey to PR, a disabled coworker has a unique set of experiences that influence their approach to the job.

They’re resourceful – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve needed something on a high shelf or had to figure out how to get in my car when someone’s parked too close. Since giving up is never an option, I’ve found tools in the most random of places, like using a hanger to open a cabinet. A physical disability forces a person to constantly be thinking outside the box on how an everyday item can be used to jump a hurdle.

They can communicate through any situation – If a person has had a disability for longer than about 20 minutes, chances are they’ve been asked inappropriate questions or had to deal with rude comments. Those moments can be awkward, but teach a person how to graciously respond to people and tactfully decline to answer irrelevant questions. It’s an invaluable skill in PR that takes years to develop, but a disabled person already has in their back pocket.

They’re good for public image – We’re in the business of public perception and having a diverse team makes an agency look good. It reflects the agency as an inclusive and open-minded environment.

“The one piece of advice I leave you with is to forget the person you’re working with has the disability. Yes, questions are allowed and it’s easier said than done, but at the end of the day we’re just like anyone else.”

Read Kristen’s original article at https://prsay.prsa.org/2014/11/13/d-is-for-diversity-and-disability/ 


Snippets from PRWeek’s “PR Needs to Lead on Disability Inclusion”:

The PR agency world is lacking in its recruitment of disabled people. It should work to change that.

“In my time since entering public relations in 2012, I have (somewhat accidentally) noticed an unfortunate consensus amongst PR agencies: there is a major lack of physically disabled people in the industry.

“Recently, I started looking into how disability is talked about the industry and was disappointed to find the topic almost completely forgotten…This isn’t meant to disparage any agency, and PR is not alone – most industries do not include persons with disabilities (PWD) in their diversity initiatives.

“PR firms have the opportunity to band together and say that as an industry, the disabled are a welcome population. Furthermore, disability can be included into the overall diversity language in initiatives, and make recruiting PWD part of the process when attempting to diversify. There is a wealth of smart, educated PWD across America and the unemployment rate for them, yet they are three times as likely to be unemployed than their able-bodied counterparts. This population ends up being overlooked, in part because business leaders are unaware they are there, and unaware of their capabilities.

“Not only will this type of initiative help the industry as a whole be viewed as more inclusive and progressive, but it will help attract top young talent. It’s also on the industry to ensure the work environment is such that it welcomes people of all ‘walks’ of life.”

Read Kristen’s full article at http://www.prweek.com/article/1414588/pr-needs-lead-disability-inclusion

EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog is part of the Diversity Committee’s “Real Talk” Initiative, where OCPRSA will host events and feature monthly blogs where leading communications professionals speak candidly about issues that affect diversity and inclusion in the public relations profession.

 

 

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