Continuing our hunt for Aussie authors living with a disability and writing for younger (and older) people to help educate about their disability, Developing Australian Communities stumbled upon this piece by ABC Top 5 Arts resident Liel Bridgford.
She says publishing more fiction by Australian authors with disability is crucial for disabled people's representation - and their wellbeing.
Here, she tells the ABC that, as a person living with a disability, it took her almost three decades before she found a book that reflected “authentic”and relatable representation of disability.
Here is Liel’s story, thanks to the ABC:
It took more than 30 years for me to read a novel that centred around someone like me. So when I read Sensitive, by Allayne L. Webster, last year — I immediately felt seen.
This young adult novel revolves around 13-year-old Samantha, who has eczema and allergies (like Webster herself). She's sick of medical appointments, tests, pain; sick of looking and feeling different. All she wants is to be "normal".
So when she moves to a new town, she decides to reinvent herself — and pretend to be healthy.
Her internal struggles are accompanied by the external barriers of people's attitudes to her condition; the notion that her body should be “fixed” is regularly expressed by her doctors and family.
I grappled with these kinds of attitudes and my own internal angst throughout my childhood, thinking I was the only one.
Reading this novel was one of the first steps towards feeling at ease in my body.
Growing up, the only disabled characters I'd encountered in my reading were evil, alienated or monstrous (think: Captain Hook in J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan).
How, as an avid reader in a society where roughly one in five people live with a disability, could it take more than 30 years for me to come across an 'authentic' and relatable representation of disability?
My experience is not unique.
Jessica Walton, a disabled author of children's and young adult fiction (Introducing Teddy; Stars In Their Eyes) told ABC Arts: “I don't think I remember seeing a lot of disability representation in fiction when I was growing up.”
And when we do find disabled characters, they tend to be the creations of white, non-disabled men — for instance, William Shakespeare's Richard III, Captain Ahab in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, and Christopher Boone in Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
These characters are often portrayed using tropes and inhumane stereotypes; at best they appear as tragedies or objects of inspiration (as in Winston Groom's novel Forrest Gump), and at worse as witches or evil monsters (such as Mr Hyde in Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).
Kay Kerr, an autistic journalist and YA author (Please Don't Hug Me; Social Queue), says: “The disability-as-tragedy narrative was probably quite prominent (when I was) growing up …(Or there were stories focussed on) the sibling of a disabled character and how hard their life has been made by having the disabled sibling.”
In the last decade in particular, there have been increased calls for better representation of disability in literature, from across Europe, Australia, the United States and beyond.
In 2015, Dutch author Corinne Duyvis (The Art Of Saving The World; On the Edge of Gone) parlayed this sense of frustration into a movement, Own Voices, highlighting books that centre characters from groups who are typically marginalised, written by authors from the same marginalised group.
The movement took off on social media, where #OwnVoices was used by people across the world to find and amplify these kinds of stories.
This push is about smashing harmful perceptions of disability and instead providing real, complex representations of disabled people – as beings capable of joy, creativity, lust, intelligence and pain.
Publishing more books written by disabled authors is one of the many ways our society can shift towards treating disabled people as equal, valued members of our communities.
I personally think there are ways non-disabled authors can write disabled characters well, but this should not exclude or outnumber Own Voices stories, as it does now.
The time has come for Own Voices of disability to proliferate in Australian fiction. Readers are craving it, writers are working hard to fill the gaps, and publishers just need to join in.
Read more about Liel’s story on the ABC here.
As previously published, we are very keen to hear about or from any Australian authors who live with a disability who have published a book about their disability - either for children or another target audience.
There are authors around the world who have published amazing books targeting audiences of all ages, but we really want to hear about Aussie authors.