An array of voices: best practice language in publishing

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In the sphere of content marketing, words hold immense power. As publishers we have the responsibility to include diverse voices and implement best practice language in everything we create.

Georgia Lejeune

Jax Jacki Brown, as the Publishability Project Officer of Writers Victoria’s Publishability Program, is rolling out a series of workshops and resources to empower the publishing industry to use best practice language and employ more writers with disabilities.

We spoke to Jax about the program and the #OwnVoices movement to help you, as marketers, create more inclusive content. 

Jessica Walton and Jax Jacki Brown presenting to the publishing industry at the Publishability workshop.
Jessica Walton, left, and Jax Jacki Brown, right, presenting to members of the publishing industry at the Publishability workshop.

Why is best practice language so important, especially in the publishing industry? 

Best practice language enables us to move with the times and be responsive and respectful to the communities we are working with. It’s about providing a framework to think critically about how language changes and evolves, how slurs relating to disability, for example, hold a history of exclusion and othering for people. Publishing is a key industry that can lead the way in this area and it’s great to see so many people willing to engage with this work.

Tell me about your role as the Publishability Project Officer?

I’m a writer with disability myself, so it’s been lovely for me to work on this program with the publishing industry and to get to work directly with writers with disability. There are a few aspects to the Publishability Program: one is working with four writers with disability, another is delivering disability training to the publishing industry and the third is developing an online toolkit for the publishing industry on working with writers with disability. So, there are a lot of interesting and engaging aspects to my role.

For those who don’t know, can you explain a little about what the social model of disability is?

The social model of disability provides a new way of thinking about disability, which came out of the disability rights movement in the UK in the 1980s. It sees disability not as a personal or individual problem of the body or mind, but as an issue of access and rights.

It arose in direct response to the medical model of disability, which sees disability solely as a medical issue requiring treatment or cure. The social model, by contrast, says disability occurs when a person comes in contact with an inaccessible environment. The social model makes an important distinction between impairment and disability. Impairment is the functional limitation within a person so, for example, the fact that I’m a wheelchair user. Disability is considered as all the things that disable or disadvantage that person, such as inaccessible housing, transport, access to employment and so on. So, under the social model, disability is a form of social disadvantage, not something that is ‘wrong’ with an individual.

Walter Kadiki is in the background and Leisa Prowd is in the foreground of the photo
Walter Kadiki (in the background) and Leisa Prowd (in the foreground).

What are some ways publishers and content creators can find and work better with writers/editors with disability and the Deaf? 

Well, as of yet, we don't have a one-stop-shop where you can go and find writers with disability or who are Deaf. I would suggest keeping up with programs like the Publishability Program and following writers on social media to increase your network and to see who is emerging and gaining traction.

I think one way to understand the social model of disability and the new way of thinking about disability it provides is to read widely and engage with the work of writers with disability. People with disability are roughly 20% of the population and yet we are far from 20% of the stories published. The publishing industry can play a key role in changing this. I also think amplifying voices by providing platforms for the stories of marginalised people is a key step in creating change.

What is the origin of the #OwnVoices hashtag and what is the message behind it? 

It was a hashtag that started a movement in literature to insist that people from marginalised communities were the ones writing our stories. It’s meant to showcase the work of authors who share the identities of the people they are writing about. It’s important for marginalised people to be able to tell our own stories and to bring our lived experience to our writing. #OwnVoices is about seeing the value and talent of the work of marginalised people and providing platforms for it to shine. 

How can publishing companies and content creators better champion #OwnVoices?  

There is a growing hunger to read #OwnVoices writing. People really want to engage with it, buy it and support it. They want to see themselves reflected back in the pages in a way that's authentic and real. Publishers play a vital role in enabling this to happen.  

Learn more about the Publishability Program and how you and your organisation can get involved here.

Where to start? Get reading some of the work of writers with disabilities and the Deaf. Jax has recommended a few to get you started:

Interview by Georgia Lejeune, managing editor

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