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New WBFO Disabilities Desk lead reporter shares personal connection with beat

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Recently, you may have noticed a new voice on the airwaves at 88.7 FM. What you might not know about this new reporter though, is that she has a personal connection to her beat.

At the end of March, Emyle Watkins joined WBFO to lead the station's Disabilities Desk. Watkins joined WBFO after almost two years at WGRZ-TV (Channel 2).

She has also produced a Telly-award winning documentary on maternal health, was part of a Golden-Quill winning team of interns and fellows at The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and led her alma mater's college newspaper. She is a graduate of Canisius College where she majored in Digital Media Art and Multimedia Journalism.

But for Watkins, making the move to covering the disability community as a beat is personal. Watkins was diagnosed with chronic illnesses in high school and college. Her illnesses, including rheumatoid arthritis, are often referred to as "invisible" disabilities and she identifies as disabled. She spoke with Morning Edition Host Jay Moran about her passion for the desk and her personal story.

Jay Moran: Regular listeners have likely heard mention of the WBFO Disabilities Desk this morning: A discussion about the desk with its main reporter, Emyle Watkins.

Emyle Watkins: Well, first off, part of my passion comes from like, seeing as a journalist the ways that we need to be better. And part of it comes from like my own personal connections to the subject and I identify as disabled and I have people in my family who are disabled. 

Jay Moran: For Emyle Watkins, that experience began in high school.

Emyle Watkins: I woke up and it was hard for me to like walk it was just so painful to get up and walk, to move around. It was, to emphasize how painful it was, I couldn't even like get pants on because anything that touched, you know, my joints, anything that touched my skin or my legs, it just hurt really bad.

Jay Moran: Emyle describes a dogged, frustrating search for resources. For example, the hit and miss process of finding a doctor who understood what was happening to her. One prescribed antidepressants. Answers, though, were eventually found. None are simple.

Emyle Watkins: My immune system attacks my own body. It's not just my joints that rheumatoid arthritis affects, it affects GI, it affects, it can affect skin and lungs, it affects my eyes, I didn't realize when I got diagnosed, how much it would affect. And then there's a lot of secondary conditions that can develop over the years from having rheumatoid arthritis. And the, there's no cure for it. And the only way to treat it is really to modify or suppress parts of the immune system, because in addition to it not working properly, it's overactive. And so for me, I've been on low dose chemotherapy [in the past], that's a very common treatment...

Jay Moran: With her reporting, Emyle hopes to clear up misconceptions and provide understanding. She shared a thought that many who live with disabilities would understand: "I can do anything anybody else can. I just do it differently."

Emyle Watkins: I have arthritis in my hands. And being able to go to a testing center and use the computer to take my tests was a game changer [in college] because, and having that extra time to do it too. Because if I was in a class, and I was, you know, writing out this essay, it would have taken me longer, and maybe my professor wouldn't be able to read it. And would I have failed that class?

Jay Moran: That accommodation helped produce some startling results: two bachelor degrees in four years, graduating magna cum laude, Emyle Watkins was tapped to be her commencement speaker.

Emyle Watkins: You know, one in four people in the US , that's 26% has a disability. One in four women has a disability. Two in five adults 65 plus have a disability. People think that disability is a niche topic. They think that we're a small part of society, we are a big chunk of society. And I think that that's why this desk is important is because I'm not covering a small community. I'm covering a fourth of the population. And beyond that, I'm talking to everyone else who loves and cares about that population and making them aware of the issues that are important to this population. Because things don't change, unless we're all in this together, and we're all working towards making a better future. And I think especially right now is we're in the midst of a lot of civil rights movements, a lot of movements for women and people of color. People with disabilities need to be included in that too, because we're also really intersectional community.

Jay Moran: Emyle Watkins, I'm looking forward to your reporting. And thanks for joining us on WBFO. 

Emyle Watkins: Thank you.

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