Yarning about disability
Psychology Masters candidate, Caris Jalla, has published a beautifully illustrated book, Yarning About Disability, which explores Indigenous perspectives on disability, health and wellbeing. Caris was one of two national recipients to be awarded an Endeavour Scholarship for her research project, which entailed interviewing 24 young Indigenous people, who have disabilities, about their experiences, challenges and achievements.
Caris also works at the Ability Centre, formerly The Centre for Cerebral Palsy, a peak disability organisation in WA. She is currently working on the Pika Wiya Kuthupha project, which has created Aboriginal disability resources and employed two local women as Aboriginal Community Engagement Officers.
How did you come up with the idea for this project?
As a researcher, dissemination of findings is a crucial and important part of the process. Some of the values under the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines working with Aboriginal people are reciprocity, survival and protection. The key qualitative research tool used in my Masters study included the use of stories by Aboriginal people. It seemed like a natural and logical step to create a resource for young people with the stories told by young people involved. I saw the scholarship opportunity offered by the Endeavour Foundation and thought this will be a great project to embark on and complement my formal research study.
What scholarship did you win?
The Endeavour Foundation has an Endowment Challenge Fund that aims to benefit Australians with a disability, especially people with an intellectual or developmental disability. Their Student Award is for postgraduate students, and annually there are two national recipients.
Why did you choose the medium of storytelling to communicate your research findings?
Yarning or storytelling is a legitimate qualitative research tool and was the method adopted by my research. Researchers Dawn Bessarab and Bridget Ng’andu describe this as a culturally safe method of engagement. In simple terms, it is somewhat like an informal focus group.
In your book, you write that there is no Indigenous word for disability. Are there many different perspectives on disability in Indigenous communities?
Indigenous cultures are very diverse, even within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations. In some communities people with disabilities are not viewed as sick but different. Physical disability may be perceived differently to neurological conditions. A lot of my thesis explored the literature in this space.
Who created the artwork in the book?
Through word of mouth I came across Naomi (or Noni) Bonney, who did the majority of the artwork. She’s a Perth based Aboriginal artist with family connections to the Wongi mob in Kalgoorlie. Two other Indigenous artists also contributed to the artwork, Leon Jala and Alena Murang – both from the Kelabit tribe, my family group Indigenous to Malaysia.
What have you learnt from your project and the project participants?
The learning has been a journey of understanding culture, art, disability and more. It’s really hard to distil in a sentence, as it has been years of gaining knowledge. I’ve enjoyed learning more about collectivist cultures and the differences to individualistic cultures – and how that impacts areas such as disability.
How did your participants respond to being part of this story?
For my Masters thesis I interviewed 24 young people, and for the book I shared a snapshot of some of the conversations. The four people who shared their story in the booklet were all happy to be involved.
How did your participants feel when they read their stories in Yarning About Disability?
I gave the printed booklet to one of the participants – being a little shy, he didn’t say much but took photos of his pages straightway. His family thought it was all pretty deadly. I’ve had friends – researchers and people with disabilities – brought to tears, which was warming feedback. The booklet is being shared with disability organisations, schools and other stakeholders.
What’s next for you, Caris?
I’ll remain working in the disability space. Last year I won seeding funding to start-up a disability social enterprise, so I’ll be working on building up Care Collective over the next chapter of my career. In term of research, I’ll always be keeping an eye out on interesting studies or related projects that may come across my path.
Caris’ book, Yarning About Disability, can be read here.