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Industry Insights: Ellie Drewry

Ellie Drewry is an Editorial Assistant at BBC Audio at Penguin Random House and has founded their new Disability Network.

Read on to find out more about her journey and mission to make the publishing industry more disability inclusive…

Tell us about your journey into publishing.

I studied Law at Bristol University where I was Managing Editor of the university’s Law magazine, and worked in an independent bookshop alongside my studies. Out of curiosity, I applied for the Penguin Random House (PRH) work experience programme and managed to get a place! I subsequently realised publishing was an industry I could see myself working in so I applied for their internship programme and was lucky enough to intern at Puffin Picture Books for 2 months, where I worked on a hybrid editorial and audio project. Following these placements, I became an Editorial Assistant at Penguin Audio, and currently work for BBC Audio, which is part of PRH.

Did you always want to work in Audio? Was there anything in particular you did to tailor your application?

Yes! During my work experience I knew that I only had 10 days to learn as much as I could, so after the first day I compiled a spreadsheet of every department I wanted to talk to with deadlines and objectives. Through this, I confirmed that Editorial and Audio were where I wanted to work. 

In regards to my application, I used my debating and legal background to show my communication skills and attention to detail; two skills vital to Audio. You really can take any non-traditional experience, show transferable skills and make it relevant.

Tell us about Penguin’s Disability Network! What were your motivations for founding this great initiative?

Honestly, I just think it was needed, particularly in a post-COVID-19 world. From Black disabled people disproportionately dying at the hands of police, to visually impaired people being given little guidance on how to measure two metres when outside, to the high level of caring responsibilities disabled people have been burdened with, to immunocompromised people being stuck indoors with no definitive end date; the marginalisation of disabled people is stark. There is no universal disabled experience, but what unites us is exhaustion, exasperation and anger.

I hope the Disability Network will connect disabled colleagues at PRH and provide a sense of camaraderie and belonging. It will also impact PRH’s output, pushing for more disabled authors, web accessibility, Audio and Braille editions, and hopefully much more.

How did you make the idea a reality? Were there any setbacks you faced when doing so?

Looking back, I was ridiculously bold; I started setting up the network when I’d been an Editorial Assistant for less than a month. I thought the biggest setback would be that I was on a temporary contract at the time. I was racing to get it off the ground so that it would be ready and could thrive in my absence. But coincidentally the day I found out I’d got a new job and been made permanent was the last day in the office in March! 

I’ve been using Zoom meetings to my advantage; I’ve crashed department meetings and presented to just about every team in PRH at this point, explaining the network’s goals and encouraging people to sign up. It’s something that would have been difficult (and inaccessible) prior to Zoom meetings, so being able to reach people in areas of the company I previously had limited access to, has been a lovely benefit of working from home.

What’s your advice for applicants who have a disability or are underrepresented in the industry and feel apprehensive about applying for publishing roles?

I think in a world where ableism exists and thrives there will always be apprehension, specifically because in any profit led industry, disabled people are so often incorrectly seen as burdensome. Setting up the Disability Network was terrifying for exactly this reason. 

I wish I could say “just go for it”, but I think that ignores the realities of structural inequality. What I can say is the response to the Disability Network has been incredibly positive and completely overwhelming, and that there is strength in solidarity, so find peers who understand your apprehension and support each other. 

What’s next for the Disability Network? Will there be opportunities for people to get involved? 

At the launch we agreed on initial actionable goals, which included creating a COVID-19 support group and creating Zoom best practise guidance to best support our d/Deaf colleagues. Anyone at PRH can get involved, including non-disabled allies, and there are long-term aims to collaborate with other organisations. Stay tuned!

And finally, what more could publishers do to ensure inclusivity and accessibility?

I am definitely biased, but Audio is so important to so many readers. More focus and funding please! I also think that whilst schemes and mentorships can be invaluable, there is more emphasis on them and less on retention. Give disabled people the role and we will learn on the job, just like non-disabled people have been doing for all time. 

You can find Ellie on Twitter @elliedrewry 

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