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Book Review: Growing Up Disabled in Australia

Book Review: Growing Up Disabled in Australia

Book Review: Growing Up Disabled in Australia

30 November 2021

Australian author Carly Findlay edited this anthology of essays written by people who have grown up disabled in Australia. 

Reviewed by Barry Gittins

Some people are born different, and some have difference thrust upon them. Some books inform, or entertain, or inspire. This book, edited by Carly Findlay, reaches into the heart of you and drags out emotional and spiritual responses. 

Australia is a land of opportunities, and relatively cashed up educational and health systems. That said, as this volume observes, in 1963 the Australian Preschool Quarterly asked the question of its readers, teachers, “Can school staff really accept a disabled student as a person and be objective while being warm and friendly?”

Read that sentence again. Let it seep in. We have truly come a long way, thank God. But the discrimination, fear and misunderstandings can resound in people’s memories and can still be seen in people’s lived experiences. The strength that indwell these pages will stay with you.

The people writing in prose, verse and graphic novel formats went through the crucible of external perception – at times being stared at, dismissed, distanced, excluded, overlooked, overtly stereotyped, underestimated and undermined – while they were learning to live and love in their bodies and minds.

They live, variously, with the reality of conditions such as blindness and visual impairment, familial dysautonomia, fibromyalgia, cerebral palsy, chronic illness, cognitive dysfunction, autism, ADHD, cystic fibrosis, deafness, dyscalculia, dyslexia, muscular dystrophy, mental illness, Marfan syndrome, neurodivergence.

In 56 chapters, some 46 contributors share theirlife stories, redolent with loss, vigour, humour, hurt and growth. Anger is a perfectly reasonable response on the part of the reader, but you will also be surprised by joy, hope, humour and respect.

Acceptance of their individual circumstances, and the embracing of difference, seem common pathways to loving the self. As Jessica Walton notes in her poem, Curve, “This gloriously bad body is what’s real, and I am all in.” This is a truly inspirational book and an important read as we approach the International Day of People with Disability on 3 December. 

Growing Up Disabled in Australia is available at major bookstores.

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