From the first day of my career, I've felt the gap between how we write about disability from a policy view and my own experience of disability. And if it's not true to my experience, why would it be any truer to anyone else's?
Disability disrupts, and as it makes us innovate in our own lives, let us innovate in how we describe the world. Let's keep the analytical view of policy, the purpose of what our movement is striving for, and ground them in our own lives.
This edition sets out a vision for a disability lens on world news. It's a vision that comes out of all the news I've curated, and from writing in community. It's one that I hope we will continue to develop together.
Why we need a new lens
Activism, research and policy work all generate important information about disability, and show how things can be different. The tools that they make available, like the “social model” of disability, show how our experiences are in a broader context of social forces.
It's an honour that I can use the Debrief to share this amazing work, and how so many are striving to uplift themselves and make the conditions for disabled people to live fuller lives. It's work that has changed my life, and the lives of many others.
However, important as these approaches are, they are not the whole story. The social model of disability can sometimes be too powerful, and not speak to the messy complications of lived experience or how other issues or identities can intersect. Policy work, too, is based on generalisations and an often bullet-pointed distance from daily life.
Journalistic approaches give us a way into putting different perspectives together. And, for sure, there needs to be much more reporting from a disability view, but journalism isn't enough either. The news is not enough to understand the news. Creative forms, like visual art or poetry, are essential for us to go deeper and find how disability can give us new ways into understanding social issues.
Disability disrupts, and connects
For me, disability offers disruptions, whether it's the (mis-)behaviours of our bodies and minds, the barriers we face, or the innovations we find. Let it disrupt the way we tell things, the categories we use. We find innovations in our homes and in our social connections: let us continue to find innovations in how we describe the world.
A lived experience of disability brings us down to earth. The abstract or simplified descriptions do not fit. The experiences we have of what our bodies and minds get up to, and how society reacts to those, are very diverse. Let's look for truth in our bodies at the same time as we look for truths in how society is changing.
Formality and traditional conceptions of “objectivity” can only get us so far. Whether it's journalism, academia or writing for bureaucracies, many fields construct “objectivity” by avoiding the personal. I disagree that this is the way to be “objective”. It hides, rather than removing, the biases of the people that made the knowledge. Independently of whether you share that view, perhaps we can agree that we need diverse forms of making knowledge to match the diversity in our experiences.
Writing from a personal view does not limit me to the tiny fraction of the world I have experienced directly. It gives me a new way to relate to the rest of it. Sharing who I am shows the reader where I write from and how my perspectives are formed. When I write about, say, healthcare and disability, I understand it in my own body as well as in research and statistics. I can relate to the truth in your bodies through the truth in my own.
A disability view gives us a lens through which we can approach any subject, whether it's technology, the climate crisis, or the world's socio-economic shifts. A disability view looks at who's being excluded, what barriers are created, what assumptions are made about who and how things will be used. It looks at how people differ and the adaptations that can be made.
Disability disrupts, and then offers new connections. It offers a way to see the interaction of our individual circumstances with social and environmental forces. It puts us into a community of different relations, and, through the uniqueness of each experience, challenges us to explore intersectionality and to learn more from the perspectives of others.
Writing in community
The Debrief is an insider's view on a social movement, and that shapes its content and style. Many of you are in the trenches fighting for change, whether in your personal lives or the advocacy that you do. I'm not trying to give recommendations for what should be done. I'm trying to give you the information and perspectives that might help you decide for yourselves.
Writing about friends and colleagues means I'm not going to share every criticism I have. But friendship also involves holding each other to account and being part of each other's growth. We're on the same side, and, because I respect you, I'm going to ask hard questions.
In terms of style, this is written as a conversation. I try to write clearly and engagingly, and to make the content accessible. Another benefit of writing through personal experience is that it gives a gateway into complex subjects. I know you're busy, so I tell you what each edition contains and signposts along the way.
None of this is a static relation: it's one we've made, and continue to make together. Each edition has an acknowledgements section as a small marker this work is not done alone. Support from readers is what allows this work to continue, and your feedback and encouragement shape and give me courage to develop these approaches.
It was only through writing in community that I could get here. This newsletter has been a platform where I've developed my own voice, and together with Áine and Kuan Aw, we've been learning together. Going forward, I hope the Debrief can be a space for others to develop their voice, through what it publishes and, behind the scenes, learning and exchange. Developing voice is a collective effort.
To sharpen a disability lens on world news, the conversation needs to be broader. The Debrief, and our sector as a whole, need to make more space for different voices from diverse perspectives, particularly from countries in the Global South, where there is much less disability news available. I, and we, need to get better at sharing contradictions and alternative approaches.
For me, giving space to different voices also means space for people that don't identify as disabled. Diversity of voice means a diversity of relationships to these issues, and many people who don't identify as disabled have extensive personal or professional engagement with disability-related subjects. They might be people without disabilities or they might be disabled people that choose another label for themselves.
On the Debrief, I will continue sharing a range of perspectives through the curated news, interviews and our mailbag editions. Hopefully we can soon extend this with online events. And in the background, I'm exploring collaborations to develop stories and connections. Some of these will lead to new contributors on the newsletter.
If you share this motivation to tell disability stories in a different way, let me know. It might be through writing, illustrating, making videos, or something else. You might already be in disability media, or just looking to find a new means of expression.
Let's go on this journey together,
Thanks to Tan Kuan Aw for the painting and exchange, and in particular to Áine Kelly-Costello for extensive review of this piece. Important feedback was also given on drafts by Adriana Vianna, Catherine Hyde Townsend, David F. Taylor, Jody Santos, Lucy Delap, and Terhas Clark. Michael Burns helped explore initial ideas before there was a draft.
Many friends and readers have been an important part of the way I understand voice and what the Debrief can do. As well as those that gave feedback on the draft, thanks, among many others, to Jen Bokoff, Jo Impey, Kathy Guernsey, Shashaank Awasthi and Tanmoy Goswami (the story of Sanity was a reference as I wrote this). On Linkedin, Catherine D., Nino G., Tanmoy and Youmna G. took the conversation further.
This edition was produced with support from Sightsavers, K Li, and the people and organizations that read it.