Imagine you’d need to ask someone to help you use a voice recorder to do an interview. Or not being able to film at a particular location because it doesn’t have wheel-chair access. Or perhaps not standing at your interviewee’s eye level. How would the absence of these little things —that most of us are taking for granted — affect your day-to-day work?
Francesca Dean, an aspiring journalist from Rossendale, Lancashire, has lived all her life with cerebral palsy, a physical condition that affects movement, speech and co-ordination.
"I'm passionate about inclusion and giving everyone a voice because many young people with disabilities don’t have the opportunity to express themselves,” she told Journalism.co.uk.
According to Cerebral Palsy Alliance, one in four people living with the condition is unable to talk, one in three unable to walk, and 10 per cent of people affected have a severe vision impairment.
"There are many struggles around disability, especially at a young age. But there shouldn't be any limitations. Sadly, many people don't know that,” Dean added.
Three years ago, she set up a blog called 'CP and me', writing honestly about living with the condition.
Her passion for reporting doesn’t stop there. A couple of months ago, Dean entered the 'Breaking into news' mentoring programme, organised by ITV News and Media Trust, which she hopes will help her kick-start her journalism career.
“I see myself as an advocate. I can't walk but I have my voice, so I can speak. And that's all that matters. Many people don't have that. I am one of the lucky ones.
"Cerebral palsy can change your life, but that also depends on your attitude. If you only concentrate on the negative, you'll never be able do anything.”
Dean is particularly interested in mental health stories, especially concerning people between 16 and 24 years old.
“Loneliness is a problem amongst young people that needs more attention.
“So I did this story on the importance of youth centres that offer disabled young people activities to help them fight isolation,” she said.
As one of ten finalists of the mentoring programme, Dean was paired with an ITV journalist based in her region. The six-week training covered all aspects of broadcast journalism, inlcuding writing, reporting, production and working inside a busy newsroom.
By the end of the programme, she submitted a broadcast bulletin on a youth centre helping people with loneliness.
"The more young people are going to be aware of their possibilities, the more they will have the chance to speak about how they truly feel."
The programme helped Dean come out of her shell. She even auditioned for the X Factor and The Voice, and although she didn’t make it through, she enjoyed breaking down the stigma around cerebral palsy.
“I feel like I've really grown and matured. I'd also like to do some TV acting and write my own biography to encourage other people to believe in themselves and push through the hardship.
"People often ask me 'how do you manage'? But this is me, I'm creating awareness, I'm being myself and that's all. Often people think a disability is the end of the road but it doesn't have to be. There is hope.”
Although being able to tell your story is incredibly empowering, this level of exposure can also make Dean feel vulnerable.
“However, I feel like I'm an example of diverse talent. Why shouldn't I share my story? I'm prepared for every reaction this may bring. No talent should be dismissed. I'm the proof of the fact that everyone deserves their chance.”
Free daily newsletter
- Let us make 2021 a year of good leadership, empathy and effective communication
- Six self-care tips for journalists to stay sane during the pandemic
- Tip: How to report accurately on covid-19 vaccines
- How constructive journalism can help rebuild trust in the media
- Improving mental health in the newsroom