A view of London from the BBC's Broadcasting House
"If you ask any disabled person what they want, it’s stability and consistency - that and accessible venues," said Drew Miller Hyndman, one of BBC News’ latest recruits of its Extend In News programme.
Miller Hyndman is one of 16 disabled journalists employed by the broadcaster in April 2019 through the programme, totalling 31 journalists since it piloted in 2017.
'Extend' offers a 12-month, full-time contract at different parts of the organisation, where people with disabilities are embedded into the newsroom and learn to hone their skills in journalism, research and production roles. After the 12 months, the idea is to extend their stay into a continuing contract.
This is crucial for Miller Hyndman, who explains that having autism means that a clear roadmap in terms of progression before, during and after Extend makes the world of a difference.
“In simple terms, autism is just another way of thinking,” he explained, adding that it can mean tasks needed to be spelled out precisely with no room for ambiguity.
"Every interaction I have with case studies, interviewees, meetings, other journalists, I experience and process that differently."
From the interview process, job applicants can make access to work suggestions, where they receive support from the BBC Access Unit to apply for a Access To Work report, a UK government programme to support disabled people in the workplace.
One month before starting in April 2019, Miller Hyndman met his line manager, head of department and his new team mates to help find his feet. On his first day, he met with the Access Unit again to go over what tools and techniques may help with his future development. All of this happened while he was finishing his dissertation in the final year of University.
Because he also has hearing impairment and hyper mobility, he was supplied with a smart pen and a hands-free headset to help with note taking, plus noise-cancelling headphones to help with audio editing.
Journalists are then matched to a department based on their current skill sets and passions - Miller Hyndman is spending the first six months with BBC Radio Current Affairs working on Money Box, moving onto BBC Panorama for the second half.
Ongoing one-to-one assessments are set up in three-month intervals to check in with how they are settling in, and if needed, change department.
"It’s good for me to have that person so I don’t feel like I’m asking lots of obvious, stupid questions to people I work with and undermining myself," said Miller Hyndman,
"The main thing they have done is create a culture in my team and on a wider level in the department."
He adds that knowing what lies after the 12 months takes the strain off forgotten factors, such as the difficulty of finding somewhere suitable, and affordable, to live in London - as it took him four months to find the right place.
"I prefer to live alone for the stability and comfort of knowing my space is my space, and when I get home it will be exactly as I left it and want it to be.
“You can make the workplace as accessible as possible, but if the job, contract and salary are not stable, and the expectations are not clear and with plenty of notice, you might as well not bother.”
That culture shift is something that Ian George, project manager, BBC News Development said is one of core aims - to increase awareness on-screen and in the newsroom.
The last Ofcom diversity and equal opportunities report in 2018 shows that representation of disabled journalists at the BBC stands at ten per cent in TV and eight per cent in radio during the 2017/18 period.
Taken together with the BBC Academy, which also aims to train more disabled journalists, George said the broadcaster is aiming to take these numbers up to 20 per cent by 2020.
It is an ambitious leap, but with plans to roll out a pilot leadership scheme this year, where six disabled journalists will be developed into senior leadership roles, he is hopeful to hit the target through inspiring a wave of new job applicants.
"We're sewing a seed inside and outside of the organisation," he said.
"I’ve done thousands of interviews with disabled people and the main thing that most people say is that they wouldn’t have applied for a job with the BBC if it was advertised normally because they think ‘why would they want someone like me?’
"By making more people aware of disability, in theory more people will have the confidence to apply for jobs because they’ve seen pieces on disability getting loads of hits."
But not all journalists brought onto the programme are at the beginnings of their careers. Sean Dilley also started in April 2019 but comes in with experience as a former Sky News reporter and a freelance journalist working at the BBC's studios in Millbank. However, he found this was not a sustainable, long-term option.
"What Extend In News does is cut through some of the challenges that we have at an editorial level.
"We're all guilty of seeing life through the prism of our own circumstance, whether that be socioeconomic, disability, or from different backgrounds. So one thing I'm very proud of is to be part of this drive for cultural change in the BBC."
Dilley was born with congenital blindness and lost functional vision at 14 years-old, and that has not stopped him learning to shoot packages for BBC Panorama.
As their contracts near the end of their term, George explains that they can expect to continue their development at the broadcaster, but if they should internally apply for other positions that open, their CVs will also be on the top of the pile.
"We want these people here because the stories they write about makes a difference to people's lives," he concluded.
Find out how to regain audiences’ trust by driving diversity in your newsroom at Newsrewired on 27 November at Reuters, London. Head to newsrewired.com for the full agenda and tickets
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