This piece was written by Grace Hall as part of our 'Disability pride starts here' project.
My physio was the first person to describe me as disabled. We were in a large room, with few objects that echoed when someone spoke. I was surprised when she said it; I didn’t think that I was disabled enough. I had spent twenty-three years as an able-bodied person. The word disabled was clinical and cold in that room; it was sterile and it was tethered to diagnosis. I spent months mourning an able body, going to appointments and writing about the ways that my body was failing me. I was hyper focused on dysfunction, revisiting the words doctors used: incapable, anxious, immobile. Sometimes I needed to live in the comfort and quiet of my bed, but social isolation crept up on me.
After months of living in my room, I realised that I needed to find people like me – I needed the comfort of deep understanding. I signed up to join a disabled writer’s group, run by Writer’s Victoria. I was so nervous turning up to Kathleen Syme Library on a chilly and grey morning. I’d never been there before so in the car on the way, I was thinking about access: Would there be a lift? What if I can’t find the room? Will my pain flare and distract me?
At the entrance, a smiling library staff member asked me if I was here for the writing group. Relief ran through me, and I surprised myself with easy flowing chatter as we made our way to the lift and down a light filled corridor.
Laughter erupted from the last room – straight ahead. The moderator greeted me with a wide smile that undoubtedly told me I was welcome. The other participants were spread out around a circular table and introduced themselves. I hadn’t anticipated such a big turnout. I felt the warmth in the room instantly. I quickly learnt that it was okay to ask the same question again and again; and it was okay if you interrupted someone or said something random – or had to leave the room abruptly. It was okay to cry or to talk about pain.
The first writing exercise we did asked us to create an object that would improve our lives. We dreamt of different things; someone imagined technology that could change the colour of a mobility aid depending on an outfit. Everyone became animated, discussing the different prints and colours they would sport. It took this moment, the chorus of laughter and the dreaming, for me to realise that mobility aids brought people joy – that with the freedom they allowed they were extensions of bodies.
Once a month I went back to the disabled writing group. We became closer, sharing books and words, reading aloud to each other. No matter what was going on for me in the outside world, I was cosseted by the community in the writer’s room. It gave me the strength to get through tireless self-advocacy in the outside world. On the last session, we were all invited to share our writing with program director. I was the last person to share my writing. I was in awe of the pieces I’d heard before mine. They were brimming with pride and struggle and resilience. Before I read my piece, I blurted that I was nervous. Everyone seated at the table encouraged me and told me I could do it. Because of these people, their energy and understanding, I felt disabled joy. It was community that gave me room to feel proud in this body and even though the feeling wavered, I knew that I could come back to this room and it would ground me.
Meet the writer
Grace Hall is a queer, crip writer and disability support worker based in Naarm (Melbourne). Her writing explores the joys and pitfalls of growing up queer in rural Victoria. She is fueled (almost) entirely by potato and existential dread and currently reads a lot of non-fiction. Grace’s work has been published by Bramble Journal, Paper Road Magazine and Writers Victoria. In 2022, Grace was a participant in Toolkits Lite: Non-Fiction program.