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BBC Extend: making journalism accessible

Lucy Webster

Journalist and Writer, BBC Politics and News Online

Trying to get into journalism is daunting. Trying to get into journalism as a young disabled woman is scary.

From local papers being run from rooms above shops, accessible only via a narrow flight of stairs, to newsrooms where not a single visibly disabled person can be found, the industry isn’t always the most inviting.

At my first ever work experience placement, aged 17, my dad carried me up and down the stairs to the office every morning and night - and even rushed over from work at lunchtime to get me up the additional flight of steps to the ladies’ loo. When I finished university, a small part of me doubted I’d ever work.

So when I was accepted onto the BBC’s Extend scheme for disabled journalists, the main feeling, alongside the excitement, was relief. Relief to have found an employer who was not just willing to accept disability, but actively wanted to improve representation of disabled people.

In the two and a half years since, I have regularly thanked my lucky stars. Through the scheme, I have been able to cover Parliament, work at Newsnight, and contribute to our election coverage. My fellow Extenders have reported stories, produced content across the BBC - from Digital Current Affairs to TV Features; BBC London to Radio 4, and more. We’ve made our mark.

One of the nicest things has been that no one has expected us to only tell disability stories. Our talents and interests, whether in politics, entertainment, foreign news, or anything else, have been centre stage - and we’ve been given the unbelievable opportunity to try out different things and find our niches.

Which is not to say we haven’t been telling the stories that matter to us as disabled people. We’ve explored accessible clubbing in Ibiza (who says journalists don’t have fun?), accessible tech, housing - you name it, we’ve tried the accessible version.

And we’ve been able to bring our experience to the wider news agenda. For example, Newsnight commissioned me to make a digital piece on the effects of Brexit on the care industry, an area we’d missed. This is Extend in action: bringing diverse journalists into the newsroom makes us all better storytellers.

But the best thing - and I fear my editors will not be pleased with this statement - is not the work. It is the other Extenders who make the scheme so great. Many of us are used to being the only disabled people in a room and it is, believe me, so nice not to feel that at the BBC. We are all around to help each other solve a problem or celebrate a success or, most often, just nod in understanding. Extend drinks on a Friday are often the highlight of a busy week.

A shout out must go to the incredible team who run Extend and help us navigate our careers. Ian George, Sarah Lambley, Katie Lloyd and Anna Mishcon, along with our individual mentors, have gone above and beyond to send every opportunity our way.

The BBC is a fantastic place to be a disabled journalist. I look forward to seeing many more join our ranks as time goes on.

Find out more about BBC Extend here.

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