A disability charity has been accused of “exploitative” and “disgraceful” behaviour after asking disabled journalists to write an article for its website without payment.
The charity Scope sent out a message on social media this week seeking a “disability blogger” who could write an article about sex and relationships on a “voluntary” basis for its online disability forum.
The request caused anger among a string of disabled writers, who reminded the charity that disabled journalists were often “devalued” and exploited and asked to provide free content.
Natasha Hirst, the disabled members’ representative on the national executive committee of the National Union of Journalists, told Disability News Service (DNS): “Disabled journalists are often expected to provide free content.
“This is a common problem for freelancers but disabled journalists especially are devalued and this needs to be challenged.
“The National Union of Journalists firmly believes that if work is worth publishing, it is worth paying for.
“We would hope that Scope, as a disability charity, seeks to change their approach going forward and pay disabled contributors if they are commissioning pieces of work.”
Writer and film-maker Richard Butchins said: “Unfortunately it’s not at all unusual for corporate organisations to blag free written content, on the grounds it’s good exposure for the writer.
“If they really want a writer they should be prepared to pay. This is just a way for them to get free content they don’t care about.
“It makes them look caring and inclusive while the actual work is carried out by some disabled person in a dark cellar full of words.
“If they want content, especially from disabled writers, then it should be paid for.”
Another disabled writer, Eleanor Lisney, told DNS that Scope “milks disabled people for all it can”, both as objects of pity to secure donations and also as free labour, and on this occasion “by expecting us to produce stories as ‘peer to peer’ support” without payment.
Journalist and access and inclusion expert Mik Scarlet said on Twitter: “You’d think that any charity that campaigns to get disabled people into work could hire them and pay freelancers. Devaluing our input doesn’t look good or sit well.”
Writer Sasha Saben Callaghan said Scope’s behaviour was “exploitative and disgraceful”.
She said on Twitter: “Here is a major charity, which gives a fortune to its top management, but is apparently expecting a disabled writer to work for a mention on social media.
“If Scope wants this piece written, then they ought to pay the going rate. They can afford it.”
There was also anger from other disabled campaigners.
Natalya Dell said on Twitter: “It is not OK for charities to commission writing and not pay for it at market rates.
“Scope is not poor, Scope can afford to pay people for their time, knowledge and expertise.
“We need to keep calling this nonsense out. Scope is big enough and has enough money to pay people for their time and efforts.”
She added on Twitter: “Not only is there the payment issue, but I’ve had 35 years of being asked to tell strangers about my sex life ‘as an example’. I’m sick of it! It’s intrusive & othering!”
Warren Kirwan, head of communications at Scope, said: “Our online community is an open and honest forum where disabled people can come together and offer peer to peer support.
“That’s backed up with monitoring, advice and expertise from our staff.
“It’s a platform for disabled people and their families and – like our information and advice helpline – it’s free to use and not monetised in any way.
“We’ve seen the responses on Twitter and we’ll consider the feedback.”
Picture: A scene from a short film released as part of Scope’s much-criticised End the Awkward campaign in 2015
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