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Liam O’Dell: What disability pride means to me

Liam O'Dell
Award-winning freelance journalist and campaigner Liam O'Dell shares what Disability Pride Month means to him.

Liam specialises in deafness, disability and social media. We spoke to Liam about what Disability Pride Month means to him and the impact it has had in his work as a freelancer.

What does Disability Pride Month mean to you?

At first, I didn’t think I could be a freelancer. Sure, I can handle unpredictability as a journalist, but I wanted some security. As an undiagnosed autistic person, the idea of a regular pay packet felt more certain. The alternative was to constantly find my own work, to pitch and accept the fact they could come back and say no.

I ventured into freelancing full-time in 2020. And two years later, I only had two jobs which required normal working hours. I earned the rest of my money through one-off commissions from companies who reached out to me.

Regular freelance shift work, alongside brand collaborations, is perfect for the neurodivergent mind. It has given me a routine to stick to and allowed me to set my own rules.

How does your disability pride come through in your work?

In my view, freelancing is freeing for disabled people. It’s right there in the first four letters. And I say this knowing how unpredictable disabilities can be. The benefit of freelancing, I’ve found, is that you can create your own routine to support this.

If fitting your changing needs into a 9 to 5 sounds overwhelming, that’s because it is. Freelancing, however, may be an alternative for you.

Being your own boss is often mentioned as a benefit of self-employment. This is true, but we hear little about what this means for disabled people. The traditional workforce still doesn’t recognise reasonable adjustments as well as they should. When you work for yourself, that duty is a little bit different, but it’s far more liberating.

There is no greater pride as a disabled person than advocating for yourself and your needs.  Not only that, but pride, in my view, is linked with confidence. When you’re working on and for yourself, your confidence grows. The value you place on your work increases, and so too does your pride.

In my case, I can choose how I want to communicate with other people, which tends to be through email. It helps my autistic, neurodivergent mind with organisation and prioritisation. As a Deaf person, it’s far more accessible than a lengthy phone call. A normal 9 to 5 job requires you to follow another person or organisation’s rhythm. That isn’t always straightforward for us disabled people.

I was once told I still had some learning to do around what happens in the usual office environment. The reality was that such an environment wasn’t inclusive or accessible to me.

I now work from home, and I’m grateful I can create and advocate in my role. I can report on the issues facing my community, and at the same time educate non-disabled people. The pandemic has highlighted the different work styles people follow, including freelancers.

It’s also worth mentioning how encouraging the disabled freelancer community is, too.

This Disability Pride Month, I hope more businesses are open to working with us. We can share new ideas, reach new audiences, and remove everyday barriers.

Contributor: Liam O'Dell

Liam O’Dell is an award-winning freelance journalist and campaigner specialising in deafness, disability and social media.

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