On Sunday, May 2, Carly Findlay, editor of Growing Up Disabled in Australia, spoke to an attentive audience at the 2021 Sydney Writers’ Festival (SWF) about her experience of choosing between the numerous potential contributors to the volume of interviews, poetry, personal reflections and graphic stories that make up the latest in Black Inc’s Growing Up in Australia series. With a selection of more than 40 contributors to the extensive and varied text, she outlined why she had made the choices that she had in the final representative sample that fill the pages.
Findlay writes and speaks extensively about the “medical” as opposed to the “social” model of disability and it is a theme noted by a number of the contributors. The medical model sees disability as a problem within the person that needs to be fixed through medical interventions – and there are a number of stories in the text that describe the harrowing trauma of repeated hospitalisation and prolonged medication. The social model, on which the text is based, “is the result of the interaction between people living with impairments and an environment filled with physical, attitudinal, communication and social barriers”, with the impetus being on the environment being to change to enable people living with impairments to live equally with others.
The panellists in Findlay’s session at SWF – Fiona Murphy, Alistair Baldwin, Gayle Kennedy and Belinda Downes – all of whom are featured in the text, emphasised the diversity in disability and the power in being able to tell their own stories in their own voices. The success of Growing Up Disabled in Australia points to the audience for the quality writing that allows for a reframing of disability, to see disabled people for who they are rather than the way in which they are often portrayed in the media. Both being part of the audience at SWF and reading the text were illuminating experiences that added to the audience’s appreciation of diversity and authenticity.