SPECIAL FEATURE Hybrid equals accessibility


While for the majority of people the world became smaller during the pandemic, for a sizeable minority it opened up. Dr Alexia Casale discusses why the new virtual world is full of positives.


Good things can happen in the midst of the worst. One of these was the rapid growth during Covid in the quality, stability and acceptance of video-calls for all sorts of purposes – socialising, business meetings, learning, and events of every kind.


Attending in-person events, meetings and courses presents a whole raft of barriers that, in combination, are insurmountable for many people. For some it’s about timings. For others, it’s about the amount of time required when you also have to travel. For disabled people, there can be myriad problems at all stages of the journey then at the venue. Plus there are the various costs – travel, time spent not working but travelling, fees/ticket-prices, childcare... this can tip the balance between ‘just about doable’ to ‘impossible unless I win the lottery’. Not to mention that these challenges often intersect.


For many the ‘return to in-person’ isn’t the triumph it’s sometimes presented as. Which isn’t to diminish the value of in-person events – it’s to recognise that online events can include people who are otherwise excluded, so often boast a more meaningfully diverse audience.


Of course it doesn’t have to be an either/or. There should be something for everyone – and now there can be if we put in the time and work to develop workable hybrid and mixed models, hence Penny Batchelor and RedDoor Press#KeepFestivalsHybrid campaign, which launched in 2021 with support from The Bookseller.


Words and Pictures Editor Gulfem Wormald kindly offered her own story of taking online picture-book courses as an example of why this work is so vital: ‘I would have never found the time, energy or the money’, especially when it also meant ‘turning up ... after a full day of work, having arranged and paid for childcare, paid a lot of money to get into London’. Critically, she says, ‘the courses were more diverse as a result of being online. Attendees were from all over the country and some from abroad which meant they brought in various experiences, backgrounds and stories which meant a richer learning environment’.


For my own part, online working meant being able to get my dream academic job as Course Leader for the amazing MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. I’m particularly proud to have helped create an online pathway to the degree, which launched this year. One of our inaugural cohort, Cathy Johnson, says that ‘ It has been AMAZING how online access has opened up learning and networking access for a newbie rural disabled writer! Just unbelievable. And the icing on the cake is that I’m now studying online the degree I’ve wanted to do since 2015, when it was only then available on campus’, which would have been ‘unsustainable for my disabilities ... and bank balance!’ Elaine Lambert added that ‘the online platform has enabled me to move seamlessly between my working day and into my academic day without the need for travel or lost time’, while Caitlin Clements reported that ‘As an international student, the new addition of an online option was a total “game changer”’, enabling her to learn without ‘entirely disrupting my existing theatre career in New York City’. Indeed, Associate Lecturer Sam Beckbessinger is completing a writing degree in South Africa, though, ‘None of this would have been possible had my university not embraced online learning.’


Lots of universities offering creative writing degrees now have online options, including Hull, Lancaster and Manchester Metropolitan, as do publishing industry providers of writing courses, like Faber Academy and Curtis Brown Creative. Virtual book launches have become common-place and festivals are re-examining their models regarding streaming, hybrid and mixed options. But in some spheres all the advantages of online have been pushed aside in the eagerness to go back to ‘the way it was’.​


It is critical to ensure this conversation continues. It will take time to create and refine effective models, but the reward is maintaining the uplift in inclusivity and accessibility that the pandemic unexpectedly brought about.


Online events and courses can offer just as rich an experience as in-person ones, albeit sometimes this is a different richness. Assuming that what works in-person will simply translate, with no thought beyond setting up the technology, is the reason too many online and hybrid events fail to live up to in-person experiences – but poorly designed events shouldn’t be used as an excuse to discard the value online and hybrid models offer.


Good online events involve specific skills, knowledge and techniques. The more we can develop and share good examples of these, the more we can enable everyone to see for themselves how effective these models can be for all sorts of purposes... including creating the more inclusive, accessible future we all want.


Illustrations by Alice Larson



Author's photo by Louisa at Art by LAW

Alexia is the author of The Bone DragonHouse of WindowsSing If You Can’t Dance and adult crime novel The Best Way to Bury Your Husband (Viking, February 2024). She is also Course Leader: MA in Writing for Young People, FHEA & Senior Lecturer, Bath Spa University, PGCHEP, MA, MPhil, PhD






Alice Larsson is a London based illustrator originally from Sweden. A natural creative, she is thrilled to be able to connect characters and stories through her work.  Alice has worked with a variety of publishers and writers on a wide range of international projects but focuses mainly on educational books and children’s storybooks.

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