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Joined: 25 Aug 2013
Age: 66
Gender: Male
Posts: 33,222
Location: Long Island, New York

27 Oct 2022, 9:45 am


Diversity within journalism has been an issue for some time now. Organisations are making more of an effort to employ people from different ethnicities, religions and social backgrounds. However, when it comes to journalists who have a disability or work limiting health problem, more than a third say their workplace isn’t sensitive to mental health and neurodiversity.

Lydia Wilkins has worked as a freelance journalist covering disability and social issues for the last four years and we caught up with her to discuss what more needs to be done by the media industry to help with diversity and inclusivity. We also chatted about her first book due to be launched next month and the importance of her podcast with Conscious Being magazine.

Can you introduce your book in a couple of sentences?
The Autism Friendly Cookbook is my debut book; compromising 100 recipes, 30 of which are from Autistic individuals. This is a resource written to address issues around access and sensory issues in the kitchen for individuals who are on the spectrum. Self-diagnosed, suspecting or formally diagnosed; everyone is welcome – this is a summary of what may present as a problem, and how to get around it. The first half is for teachers/parents/guardians/etc., the second is recipes – and it is written without the junk science of ‘curing’ yourself by eating.

Could you tell us about how you came to write The Autism Friendly Cookbook?
In short: this is sort of an accidental book, a pandemic project! I had always viewed book writing as the realm of ‘proper journalists’, not something I had ever envisioned myself doing.

During the lockdowns I was informed that I was eligible for Personal Independence Payment, a form of disability benefit that is often referred to as PIP (I am also Autistic – surprise!). I knew this was going to be an uphill battle, just because I look at disability issues as part of my job – and the crystal ball I looked at at the time suggested this was going to be a long, drawn-out argument. Just because I can talk to you, does not mean I am not Autistic. I’m also female – and there is an additional gender gap here.

The initial stage suggested I could ‘just learn’ key skills, such as cooking, which is beyond inaccurate! If I could ‘just learn’, I could ‘just learn’ to be…not Autistic. This is inherently offensive. And besides, how boring would this world be if we were all the same? That particular comment sparked an idea.

I went away, talked to a lot of people personally and professionally – and the shape of a universal experience emerged very quickly. The same issues I had kept coming up; having taught parents about the world of additional needs on Zoom at the start of the pandemic, I was often amazed that they had no idea on why their child was not picky, for example – there is a way around that. A resource was needed – and one without junk science about ‘cure your Autism while eating this health food’ (spoiler: you can’t! And this is also inherently offensive). That kind of sat bubbling away in my brain.

Around the same sort of time, my mentor suddenly died – and that was really unexpected. I still miss him. The last conversation we had was about another book I was in conversations to ghostwrite at the time; it won’t happen now. He was so excited by this prospect – instructing me how to write it, interview subjects, all from the back of his transport in New York! (It was 12pm UK time, mind you. Yikes.). The last thing he said was that if I was to sign a contract, to send it to him first. Knowing someone has faith is a powerful act. You spin the wheel, throw the dice – to see what happens in the end. I pitched it to Jessica Kingsley Publishers via their website – and here we are, two years later!

How representative is the media industry of disabled people and what more needs to be done?
How long do you have?! In short, not at all.

This is something I have cared about for a long time, now; as a student, I was a recipient of the Journalism Diversity Fund. We can all be always doing so much better – down to the stories we tell. I am tired of the tragedy stories that often run, without talking to a disabled person – a parent/carer is not the story! Disability representation in newsrooms can always be better. Dr Frances Ryan wrote a book called ‘Crippled’ I read recently; she describes the catch 22 of being shamed for not working if you have a disability, but workplaces are also so often very inaccessible.

What needs to be done? Well! First, assume not the skill leave or competence – and take the time to learn, instead of insisting it is upon us to teach you. I detest being used as a free consultancy service so very often when there is no credit attached, as that has an emotional labour tied to it. I freelance, time is my one main asset – I cannot spend inordinate time on this, especially when there are a lot of resources on this freely available. Perhaps real action should be taken instead of focus groups, or conferences – something that is actually tangible.

Second, don’t just tick a box – disability is intersectional! And we all can do better with being aware of the obligations of the Equality Act. Thirdly, do not be a corrective listener – listen freely, and be willing to learn, instead of assuming and thinking in a linear format.

Finally, journalists love writing about other journalists – we are in a bubble of sorts, especially given our media in the UK is quite London central. I try my best to live outside this and stay outside this – there are stories elsewhere, too.

You also host the Disabled Debrief Podcast With Conscious Being Magazine, what sort of topics does the podcast cover and why is it important?
Ah ha! This is an audio extension of the magazine itself. Founded by Liz Wright who is editor-in-chief, the idea is that disability is not a one-dimensional experience. The magazine is for women and non-binary individuals of all ages; rather than having the pre-conception it is grey, bleak and tragic, we want to put the joy back in this. Editorially we cover subjects like fashion, travel, sex and dating, art, books and so much more.

Professionally Identified and joined WP August 26, 2013
DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity

“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman


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Joined: 3 Jan 2015
Age: 37
Gender: Female
Posts: 258

21 Nov 2022, 12:29 pm

I bought an Autism cookbook one time. The recipes were terrible