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Using my Voice. Reflecting Disabilities in Children Books and The London Book Fair 2024.


A Photo of a pass in its case for Lonon book fair and Ipad with my speech displayed
London Book Fair and Speech

Firstly, I am aware that I have let the blogging side lapse, life has been crazy busy these last few months and I need to reconnect with my inner Carrie Bradshaw and start writing again!  Let’s first talk about what is Reflecting Disability project is, more in-depth information can be found at https://www.instagram.com/reflectingdisability/ and https://mailchi.mp/233fc9f1230b/reflectingdisability It is an ACE (Art Council England) Funded project that explores the representation of disabled people in children's books. You can also check out the https://clpe.org.uk/research/clpe-reflecting-realities-survey-ethnic-representation-within-uk-childrens-literature-0 which is an example of how the project can grow.  I am part of the steering group to help get this project off the ground, phase one has been about getting the framework for the survey so we can get the data and see what is out there and how is currently represented. It hasn’t been easy, behind the scenes is quite a complex nature driven by the desire that we do this as right as possible yet acknowledging that people are unique. For data we need boxes and for boxes we need categories. It is never going to be straightforward for us to do this, for example, we see terminology as a hugely personal thing, yet we cannot cover everything we like as we need numbers to compare for data. From looking at my work and messages you can see I hate boxes and barriers, so from a personal perspective I have had to challenge my own bias so that it is more of an acceptance of what is needed. I know the data would only give a surface layer to the overview of our realities and that is a message we take forward. 


An Illustration of a young white girl with brown hair in pigtails wearing a blue school uniform with a teddy on her lap. Signing BSL word for book and there is a book in front of her.
Girl Sat on Floor Signing book

The London Book Fair was a way for us to share the project, get interest and see how can move forward into phase two. We have a lot of data we can share from behind the scenes, but we also wanted to bring the human side to the table, why we are doing this and what it means to us. I brought my reality to the event (Alongside Imogen, Carrie, Jacquline and Jumoke.) I had never done a speech before, but for something this meaningful it meant so much that I needed to use my voice. I am a child in the gaps, the girl between worlds and often unheard. I had had people speak for me, and tell me what I needed and wanted without ever asking me. I want to be a voice that says listen to the ones that are not shouting the loudest, as just sometimes they also need to be heard as well. I stood up on stage and said the following.  “I am going to spend a few moments talking to you today about my personal journey to becoming an illustrator, it is the reason I stand before you and it is linked to why I believe that having good representation in children’s books is vastly important, and this is what led me to getting involved in this project from an illustrator’s point of view.

 

I have always loved drawing. I am pretty sure from an early age it was my first way of communicating visually with the world around me. I lost my hearing at the age of two or three, and I started lipreading overnight, it took months for my hearing loss to come to light. With the use of hearing aids, speech therapy and carrying around a brink, also known as a radio aid, it seems I adapted to fit into mainstream society, and that I was fine.

 

I wasn’t fine, I was struggling.

I was stuck in the gaps between the hearing world and the deaf world and never quite feeling like I belong anywhere.

 

So, Books became a way I’d learn about how the world worked. While there is no denying that over the years things have changed, when a child it wasn’t the case and that was when I needed it the most. I didn’t read about any positive characters or story arcs that I could relate to. Finding character with my labels only confirmed many negative stereotypes.

Representation in books is not just about how the world sees us; it is how you see yourself. For me the consequences of a lifetime without representation, it meant I could not relate to myself and felt I had no voice or place.

 

Without a voice, you cannot ask for help. You accept things when it is far from okay, you work harder and always ready for a fight. This type of suffering was just another type of silence.

 

and it was that way for a long time.

One thing I never stopped doing or lost was my need to draw.

I can look back now and see that my voice spoke in a visual way, it was if I was trying to create my own representation every time I picked up a pencil, but it just lacked direction.

 

I recently completed a BA (Hons) Illustration degree, I learned about my access needs and yet it still was not without its barriers. My access needs came at a great fight and personal cost. A very harsh reminder, that things still need to improve. Now it was no longer just about me, my illustrations and words now representant a bigger picture and it is about smoothing the path for the next person.

 

My journey has led to this moment of me using voice standing before you today, giving my very first public talk for this project. 

 

Statistically, the odds were never in my favour. Disabled people are more likely than non-disabled to be unemployed or in lower-paid roles. We are less likely to have a degree, and yet more likely to drop out. Because I fought to remove some of my barriers, I got a first in my BA.

But, it was a fight, a fight I shouldn’t have to give and it is the type of thing that stops the right people from being where representation is needed.

What I would like from today is to start having conversations on how reflecting disabled realities in the long run can change things, how we can grow, and how can remove some of the needless barriers in order to give our children what is needed.

 

While disabled voices are important for bringing authentic experiences, which help stop stereotypes, it is not just on us. Balance is needed, as I do not write or draw only about my disability. I have many stories and pictures that are just every day, my deafness is not my whole identity as an illustrator.

 

Disabled creatives are made up of everyday stories, stories of barriers, stories of empowerment, and stories about animals, therefore everyday characters are also disabled.

One of the benefits of sharing the stories and working together is that will help the industry as a whole grow stronger, in turn producing amazing books for all children.  

After all, we all learn from each other, and we learn by reading.

For the future of this project, I would hope that we can explore creative new way in which illustrators and authors can represent our realities, from improving education to our everyday practices. 

  

Children should be able to find acceptance and empowerment in their everyday books and grow up feeling like their voices are heard.”





If I am honest, part of me until the moment stood on the stage thought I would “Chicken out”, I was worried about my deaf voice, tripping on stage and not being able to get a word out.


A young school child on a green balance chair waving and enjoying a book. The child has dark curly hair in a headband and blue school jumper uniform. Brown skin with a smile and a wave of thier hand.
School child on balance chair

After we had a networking session, I remember talking to so many people, sharing why the project meant so much and sharing my portfolio. The event went so well, The London Book Fair staff pretty much had to kick us out as everyone still had so much to stay.


Highlights were meeting Beth, Alex, Joanne, Carrie, Jacqueline, Imogen and Jumoke. (And the sponsors of the event) – so many names (Thank you all)

Experiencing the London Book Fair, going around talking to publishers and looking at books that represented disability. If anything I feel just how important the project is and that I am not alone in this, this passion for better is shared by many. 

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