Over the past few years I have noticed that more characters with disabilities have been appearing in works of fiction. In many ways this is wonderful to see, as we have been a largely under-represented group when it comes to fictional characters. But, as with so many other facets of life, there is also a shadow side – I seldom feel that the characters with disabilities are accurately drawn. Instead, they tend to be depicted as either inspirational or tragic figures. Which, like most other polarities, results in a highly simplistic view of what life with a disability is like.
On a recent episode of my A Different Way of Seeing podcast, I raised the topic with fellow author and advocate, Elizabeth Sammons. Together we explored the way blindness is represented in fiction and the often harmful consequences it has for us as persons living with a visual impairment. It was a fascinating conversation and I’d encourage you to take a listen and think about some of the points raised by Elizabeth.
Here’s where you can find the conversation: http://iono.fm/e/1173132
I also loved the advice that Elizabeth offers to authors wanting to create believable characters with disabilities. Her suggestions on how to research and test the accuracy of the depiction of the disability are great and can be used by writers with and without disabilities.
Here are the books mentioned by Elizabeth, as well as the speech she referenced during our conversation, in case you feel inclined to dig a little deeper into the subject.
“Blindness: Is Literature Against Us?”
By Kenneth Jernigan, July 3, 1974
“Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism”
By Elsa Sjunneson
“There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness”
By M. Leona Godin.
You can learn more about Elizabeth’s own writing at https://www.dldbooks.com/elizabethsammons/
And, if you haven’t already done so, please subscribe to receive these newsletters as soon as they come out – they will drop straight into your mailbox! It’s the best way to stay in touch with my news and events.
I promised to update you on what is planned for A Different Way of Travelling, the podcast on accessible travel that I currently host for Accessible South Africa. Which I will do – but first, let me tell you about our most recent episode, where we chat about adaptive golf.
For some reason it feels like I’ve been coming across an increasing number of adaptive sports. It’s exciting to be constantly finding people who are making sports more inclusive for persons with disabilities in South Africa. And my latest podcast episode contains yet one more example of this – namely adaptive golf.
Admittedly, I don’t know if the Raising Hope SA Golf Academy is the first of it’s kind in South Africa, or whether adaptive golf is available all over the country. But it is new to me, and I wanted to tell my listeners about it, in case I wasn’t the only one for whom this is news.
You can hear the story of the Raising Hope SA Golf Academy, and about some of the other projects being run by Raising Hope SA, in my latest podcast episode, at http://iono.fm/e/1155543
The academy is open to anyone, regardless of their age, disability, and financial status. I really like the approach they are taking – to work with each individual person and figure out how best to accommodate their needs and abilities. Because, as we know, each person’s abilities are uniquely different.
On a broader scope, we are going to be making some exciting changes to the podcast in the coming weeks. Firstly, the name is going to change to A Different Way of Seeing, though that won’t have any impact on you if you subscribe to the podcast on any of the usual podcast players.
We’re also shifting the focus of the podcast to explore the lived experiences of persons with disabilities in all aspects of life – work, education, sport, the arts, and leisure, as well as travel. I’m excited about chatting to people and hearing more about the tools and techniques they use to make their lives easier in all these areas.
The changes will probably only come into play in episode 60, which will most likely be in March or April. But watch this space – we’ll be sure to keep you updated as things happen.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy learning about adaptive golf and the Raising Hope SA Golf Academy. And, if you know of other adaptive golf initiatives in South Africa, please let me know about it.
It’s taken me a long time to hit the publish button on this video, but I am excited to finally share it with you.
If you are looking for a speaker for an event – online or in person – then please take a look at my latest YouTube video, where I share a little about the work that I do. You will also have the chance to hear what a few of my previous clients and presentation attendees have to say about my talks.
Even if you are simply curious to learn more about who I am and what I do, this video will hopefully answer those questions. And it’s only 5 minutes long!
So, here it is:
Reach out if you’d like more information – you can contact me on whatever platform you are reading this and I’ll respond with more details.
And watch this space for more announcements in the near future – there are lots of changes happening in my business!
A few days ago I found myself wondering how many podcast interviews I had done relating to adaptive sports and activities. When I looked back through the podcast feed I was excited to see how many there were. Today I’m going to share a few past episodes with you in the hope they might inspire you to discover how various activities can be adaptive to become more inclusive for persons with special needs.
Our first foray into accessible activities was in episode 5 (December 2018), when I spoke to Angelique le Roux of Ceres Zip slide Adventures. I found it fascinating to hear how they make ziplining available to persons with a wide range of different disabilities. And, even with my atrocious head for heights, I found myself wondering what the experience might be like. Find out for yourself by listening to the interview at http://iono.fm/e/638621
On episode 14 I interviewed Roxy Davis of Surf Emporium about the adaptive surfing clinics she runs. That was all the way back in June 2019. You can listen to the episode at http://iono.fm/e/696018
In other episodes I’ve spoken to people about accessible safaris (Episode 32 – http://iono.fm/e/828914) and ocean cruising, (Episode 34 – http://iono.fm/e/845329
Then, in my most recent episode I chatted to a team who run an adaptive scuba diving organisation. Again, I was excited to hear how they are able to accommodate people across a wide spectrum of abilities. So much so that I am hoping to give it a go myself in the next few weeks. You’ll find that interview at http://iono.fm/e/1110127
I have always maintained that I constantly learn things from the podcast interviews I do and certainly my eyes have been opened to so many different opportunities and activities that are available to those of us living with a disability. And I think that is wonderful.
Want to know what my next interview on an activity will be about? Well, I know that the first South African adaptive paraglide took place in Cape Town recently. And I’ve already reached out to the people concerned to see if they’re interested in being interviewed. So maybe that will be next!
Last month I was honoured to be a speaker at the HerStory Women’s Global Empowerment Conference. The conference and the HerStory platform are the brainchild of Zimbabwean-born Getrude Matshe, who has been building the concept for the past few years, first as in-person conferences and currently as online summits.
My 15-minute presentation was on the topic of independence and it’s meaning for me as a blind person, touching on the need for greater inclusion of persons with disabilities into society and the workplace.
You can watch the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqLQvX5vnMs
I’ve been hosting a podcast on accessible travel for 2 ½ years and have recently been thinking about why someone with no connection to disability might gain value from listening to it.
I believe one of the biggest barriers to the inclusion of persons with disabilities into society and the workplace is a lack of understanding of how we (persons with disabilities) live our lives. Because people don’t understand how we do things, they usually default to imagining that those tasks are not possible for us.
I understand why that barrier exists. On a fundamental level, why should someone with no link to disability know how we operate? It’s rather like expecting everyone in the world to know how a nuclear power station operates, how an orthopedic surgeon does their work, or knowing the intricacies of a retail store stock management system. For the most part we do not need to know and, unless nuclear power stations, retail store stock management or orthopedic surgery impacts directly on our lives, we simply accept that it does what it needs to do. Without needing us to know anything more than that.
Sadly, since many people have no direct contact with a person with a disability, the same appears to hold true. Except that statistics tell us that around 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. Which means that for every eight people we encounter, one will have a disability, whether visible or not.
In the past few years we have seen a growing awareness of the need to understand the realities of those whose experiences have been different from our own, to be more open to diversity of race, culture, gender, age. Yet somehow the question of ability seldom gets mentioned when the question of diversity is raised. I believe it should be part of that conversation as well.
Which brings us back to why someone with no contact with disability might gain value from listening to my podcast about accessible travel.
- To learn a little about the barriers the world sets up for persons with disabilities,
- To learn about the tools and techniques we have at our disposal that allow us to overcome the obstacles we face,
- To see the strength, resilience, skills and talents that help us achieve what we are passionate about,
- To understand that we are just the same as persons without disabilities in terms of what we love to do,
- how we want to live our lives, and experience the world – it is just the way we may do it that may differ
I love having the opportunity of chatting to people about their travel experiences. I learn new things in every single episode. However, I believe the greatest take-away I have gained while interviewing people is the knowledge that, though we may do things in a different way, our experiences and our love for travel are exactly the same.
If you are someone who loves to travel to new places and experience different things, you may discover that the guests on my podcast have much in common with you as well.
Why not dip into the library of episodes of A Different Way of Travelling and see if I’m correct… You can find them at https://iono.fm/rss/chan/3715
Or on your usual podcast player.
Go on, give it a try!
I am regularly startled by the mails that arrive in my in-box. Thankfully I’m not referring to adverts for things that I neither want nor need, though I do receive a few of those as well – but remarkably few thanks to my anti-spam software.
Rather I’m referring to a number of incredible opportunities that have come my way over the past few months – like an invitation to appear on national TV… but more about that as the details emerge. And opportunities like guesting on some wonderful podcasts. Like the Phemale Phoenix Podcast with Lauren Deal.
The Phemale Phoenix is a podcast about women who have overcome challenges and, to quote the podcast show notes, “turned their mess into a message”. It turns out that Lauren read one of my Beyond Sight blog posts and decided I would be a good fit for her audience.
It was wonderful to chat to Lauren earlier this month. Her podcasts are usually 15 minutes since she wants her audience to be able to slot the episodes into their busy lives without too much difficulty. And the topics she covers address a number of issues faced by women across the world.
Here’s the interview we did: https://thephemalephoenix.podbean.com/e/episode-20-lois-strachan-unseen-ambition-in-a-sighted-world/
If you have a story to share with Lauren’s audience, why not reach out to her and see what is possible.
I’m not sure how it happened, but the second half of 2020 was not a good year for me in terms of podcasting. Well, let me clarify that – while I was a guest on a number of podcasts, mostly due to the launch of the second edition of my book, A Different Way of Seeing, somehow I didn’t get round to publishing many episodes of the travel podcast that I host. In fact, I published only four podcasts, when I would usually aim for two each month.
So I’m happy to report that I’ve fallen back into podcasting and hope that I’ll be back on track in 2021 – I have three episodes recorded so far, with a further three in progress.
The first 2 episodes are an interview with ability activist Chaeli Mycroft, from the Chaeli Campaign. Chaeli and I chat about several topics related to travel and disability, including her participation in ultra-marathons in her wheelchair, and her trip up Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain peak on the African continent. The first episode is ready to go… and should be released any day.
To hear that interview, and any of the other interviews I’ve done previously, hop over to the podcast feed at https://iono.fm/rss/chan/3715
And why not subscribe while you’re there? That way you won’t miss any of the exciting and inspiring stories of the travellers I get to chat to.
How many books can YOU think of with a disabled character? I’d love for you to drop me a message or a comment listing the characters and books you know of. I think it would be an interesting exercise for us all.
You see, if it’s true that art mirrors reality, then for every eight characters in the books we read, we should find one with a disability. Because that’s what the statistics from the World Health Organisation website tell us– 15% of the global population lives with a disability – https://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/report/en/#content
I understand some of the reason’s writers may not include us.
- They don’t see us out there in the world
- They don’t want to offend us
- They don’t want to misrepresent us.
Sure, I recognise that it doesn’t appear that every eighth person we pass in the street has a disability so writers may not be aware of how many of us there truly are. Also, many disabilities are invisible – psycho-social, cognitive, reading, some hearing impairments, to list but a few – so perhaps it appears we are a smaller group than we are. Then, because unemployment figures for persons with disabilities are so high, people don’t see us in the workplace. And sadly, sometimes when people do see us, they see the disability first and ignore the person as an individual. Finally, if you don’t have contact with a person with a specific disability, it may be hard to know what we can do.
I also understand the other concerns I listed. People have often told me they are nervous about approaching someone with a disability in case they cause offense by saying or doing the wrong thing. That’s due largely to a general lack of awareness of how we accomplish the tasks we do, the technology that enables us to live mostly “normal” lives, and the tools and techniques we have at our disposal. And yes, we are often scathing in our responses when we see a fictional character with a disability who is poorly represented. Or when disability is represented as being an unendurable catastrophe that cannot be overcome.
I want to challenge my fellow authors to be more inclusive when creating characters. Here are a few guidelines:
- Your lead protagonist doesn’t have to be the one with a disability; it could be a supporting character – but let us be included in the world you’re creating.
- Do your research – There is so much information out there about the way we live our lives as persons
with disabilities, so research this as you would other aspects of your book. Or reach out to someone with the specific disability you’re trying to represent.
- Don’t be scared to ask for input – just as you have beta readers to give you feedback on your book, ask someone with a disability to do the same, preferably someone with the disability your character has; most of us are willing to help, I promise.
Books are by no means the only medium where we are under-represented. Movies and TV are much the same. I’m excited to notice an increase in the number of characters with disabilities over the past few years. But we’ve still a long way to go.
We’re by no means the only minority that face this situation – Recently I’ve seen articles from other minority groups and, in some cases, majority groups, who are not well represented in the publishing world and other media. It’s starting to shift, but I believe we need far greater diversity of voices amongst those writing books. Having said that, a note for other authors with a disability – don’t feel obliged to write only about disability issues – you should feel free to create whatever you want.
So, there it is: my challenge to authors writing fiction – help us feel more included and less invisible in the world you’re creating. Help us see the world we inhabit in the books we read. And help us feel that we’re part of society as we experience it in all ways.
Now, who’s going to start the list of books with characters with disabilities? I’d love to see how many I’ve already read and how many I still have to discover…
It’s no secret that I’m nervous when speaking to groups of young children. For one thing, I know I’m going to have to work hard to get them to focus on what I’m saying when all they really want to do is meet my guide dog, Fiji. But it’s also hard to know how well the youngsters grasp the concept of blindness and what it means in my life.
This nervousness probably explains why I actively seek the opportunity to talk to learners. After all, don’t they say the best way to work through your fears is to confront them? In reality, getting to spend some time explaining what life is like for me as a blind person always gives rise to a fascinating conversation between myself and the youngsters concerned. And a recent visit to the Adventure Kids Club in Cape Town was no exception.
My audience was a group of fifty youngsters and a few adult coordinators, who sat patiently as I spoke about my life and then asked a flood of questions, ranging from how I eat, right the way through to what techniques I use to ensure I’m not excluded when it comes to social activities with sighted friends. The Adventure Kids Club is a community organisation set up by Maria Strachan in Ysterplaat in Cape Town. Maria started the group as a way of inspiring and encouraging youngsters from the community, many of them coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. And, in case you’re wondering about the coincidence that Maria and I have the same surname, yes, our respective husbands are cousins.
As often happens when Fiji comes with me to speak at a children’s event, the youngsters had most fun when they got to come and say hello to her, and she loved the attention. It’s always so cute to see Fiji surrounded by a group of youngsters who want nothing more than to give her love and play with her. Only, maybe this time I gave my dog a run for her money on how to hold the kid’s attention – Maria asked me to bring my guitar and play a few songs for the group. Which I did – to an enthusiastic reception. Here’s a short clip of one of the songs I played:
Ultimately, I think both Fiji and I were lucky that we’d finished talking to the youngsters before the ice-cream arrived – I’m not sure that even a guide dog can capture a child’s attention when facing competition like that!