Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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Open Your Eyes: Jax Jacki Brown on access and inclusion in publishing

Writers Victoria and Arts Access Victoria are offering disability awareness training tailored specifically to the publishing industry at the upcoming Independent Publishing Conference in Melbourne. The workshop will cover best-practice language, the social model of disability, barriers to participation, the case for inclusion beyond compliance, and knowing your organisation’s legal obligations. Facilitator Jax Jacki Brown spoke to Books+Publishing ahead of the training day tomorrow.

In terms of access and inclusion in publishing, what are the things the Australian book industry is currently doing well? Are there any standout examples of inclusion in action?

There is a hunger for #OwnVoices stories and more of these stories are being published than ever before. There is also a passion and commitment to including discussions on diversity and representation at publishing conferences, as we can see this year at the Independent Publishing Conference, and I think that this is reflective of the discussions that are happening in publishing houses.

I work for Writers Victoria running a program called Publishability, which supports four authors with disability to develop their manuscripts and bring their work to the attention of publishers. It has been really fabulous to see publishing houses sign up to be part of this program—of which the training tomorrow is a key part—and indicate that they want to read these manuscripts and become part of getting these stories out into the mainstream!

Where does the industry need to improve on access and inclusion?

As an author with disability it is really heartening to see disability beginning to be thought of as an aspect of diversity and as an experience that readers want to see reflected in the books they buy. But people often lack the tools or knowledge to assist in creating inclusion of people with disabilities.

This training will provide some of these important tools, such as best practice language when writing about disability. We will explore how you can highlight difference or disability in an intriguing way while challenging stereotypes. We will work with participants to think through how they might budget for access costs and what individual access requirements might be when working with authors with disabilities.

One topic the training will cover is the social model of disability. Can you explain this concept for readers who might not be familiar with it?

The social model of disability came out of the disability rights movement and challenges the medicalised approach to disability, which views disability as something to be ‘fixed’, ‘treated’ or ‘cured’. This model reframes disability not as a ‘problem’ located in the body or mind of an individual, but as a problem of access and inclusion.

The social model asks us to think about the built environment and how it has been constructed to exclude people with disabilities—through inaccessible trams, trains, and stairs, for example. It also asks us to consider the ideas we hold about disability, and which we often see reflected in the media, where people with disabilities are viewed as inspirational, tragic or in need of help or pity. These are stereotypes and, like any stereotype, they limit how a person is perceived and related to. Language and writing play a huge role in challenging and changing these depictions.

The ticket price of the training will go directly into the development of a toolkit on disability. What will this toolkit entail?

The toolkit is a collaboration between Writers Victoria and Arts Access Victoria and is still in the initial stages of development. This training is the first of three sessions we will be delivering across the next two years for the publishing industry. The participants who undertake Open Your Eyes this Thursday will provide us with invaluable feedback on what works, what could be improved in the training, and what they are looking for in terms of resources. This will help us develop the content of the toolkit and really tailor the toolkit and the training across the next two years to provide the publishing industry with resources on disability, language and inclusion.

What’s the main takeaway message you hope people will get out of the workshop?

People with disabilities make up 20% of the population. We are readers and writers and there is a market for literature which caters to this experience. People with disabilities are creative and innovative and we have interesting and valuable writing to share. This training will provide those publishers who want to be part showcasing these stories the skills and tools to do so meaningfully and with confidence.

Open Your Eyes: Disability Awareness training will be held on Thursday 22 November from 9.30 am – 1 pm at the State Library Victoria. Tickets are available here.

(Image credit: Breeana Dunbar)