Title: Growing Up Disabled in Australia
Edited by: Carly Findlay
Publisher: Black Inc.
Published: June 2020
“I thought disability looked a certain way. And I didn’t fit that.” Growing Up Disabled in Australia, the fifth novel in the Growing Up series by Black Inc., is an eye-opening read to the stigma surrounding disability. This anthology is filled with prose and poems from a range of Australian authors who identify as a person with a disability. The publication of Growing Up Disabled in Australia notes (and signifies) the demand for a larger representation of people with disabilities in publishing.
Editor Carly Findlay’s introduction draws from People with Disability in Australia’s definition of disability as: “the result of the interaction between people living with impairments and an environment filled with physical, attitudinal, communication and social barriers”. People with disabilities are expected to conform, to restrain themselves, and fit into society. The pressure to either hide or defend their disabilities is highlighted in the anthology. What shocked me from the start was Findlay’s note that several authors, due to the stigma surrounding disabilities, requested to be anonymous and use a pseudonym; however, despite these shared barriers, the contributing authors are hardly a homogenous group. Some prefer to keep their disability private, and others are identity-first users.
What constitutes as a disability? This is not a question I have pondered until I started reading this anthology. In the book, disabilities range across chronic, neurodiverse, physical or cognitive impairments; the setting is equally broad with stories from the city to rural regions. Although each story is united by the identification of a disability, the approaches are various, ultimately working to allow readers to identify with the writers. This anthology not only raises awareness for readers without a disability but also allows readers with a disability to connect with a literary figure who has similar experiences or disabilities to themselves that they have not come across in literature before.
One of the stories that stood out to me was “The Bedridden Astronaut” by Melanie Rees. Rees’s story immediately hooked me in (and not because of the amazing astronaut metaphors) when she eloquently described her realisation as a child that her dreams of becoming an astronaut would not happen because of her kidney failure. Her dreams “popped”; there was no shatter but rather a simple bubble pop of realisation. As Rees listened to the nurse and her mother discuss “what might have been”, she begins her journey of understanding the adjustments that will take place in her life. Although Rees won’t be able to travel to the moon, she ultimately realised that through writing she could travel to many planets. Rees’s disability did not shatter or ruin her dreams bur rather pointed her in another direction that allowed her to explore universes.
Although Rees’s story was uplifting, not every story is comfortable to read. This book was designed to call out the stigma surrounding society’s (in particular Australia’s) treatment of people with disabilities. Some stories discuss the way people talk about their appearance/behaviour in front of them (shown in Andy Jackson’s and Fiona Murphy’s work), call them names (shown in Natalia Wikana’s story), or dismiss their feelings/symptoms (shown in El Gibbs’ story). Other stories—like Rees’s—explore self and the acceptance of a disability. As much as this book is a signal that Australian publishing needs a diverse cast of characters in books, it is also a callout to Australian society on its poor treatment of, and lack of assistance to, people with disabilities.
I must note that each story is not an individual callout (there are many thank you notes within) but when I put down the book, I could not help but think that there is a bigger discussion that needs to take place. This is a book for those who want to self-reflect and learn. This is a collection that calls for change.