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Disability activist is a writer with real ability and a great sense of humour

22 November 2021 - 12:38 By Mila de Villiers

Written with authenticity, vulnerability and humour (a chuckle will be elicited more than once), South African disability activist Michaela (Chaeli) Mycroft’s self-published debut book, Unapologetically Able: 25 years of living and laughing with my disability, chronicles her experience of living with cerebral palsy. 

From dispelling the fallacy that she would never write (Mycroft opens the book by quipping “They said I’ll never be able to write... haha”) to being the first female quadriplegic to conquer Kilimanjaro, the now-27-year-old recipient of 2011’s International Peace Prize and 2012 Peace Summit Medal for Social Activism furthermore, along with Anita Engelbrecht, pioneered the right for wheelchair athletes to complete the Comrades Marathon on May 29 2016. This pivotal date marked the first time in the near-century long history of the Comrades in which a wheelchair athlete had reigned victorious against the "inherently ableist" organisers of the ultra-marathon.

Here Mycroft conveys more in her own  unapologetically able words:

First things first: the title.

Please elaborate: a) Why you decided on Unapologetically Able?

I chose this title because I wanted to challenge the ideas of disability and ableness being mutually exclusive. I can claim my disability and recognise all the ways in which it affects my life and also acknowledge I am able to do things, albeit differently.

b) Your our inclusion of a subtitle.

I want people to know my attitude before they even open the book. I feel the subtitle, in a way, gives permission to readers to laugh at the stories they’re about to read.

For those who are yet to read the book, please explain what inspired you to pen Unapologetically Able.

I’ve had so many people tell me I should write a book, and I’d been writing stories for years. Things came together for the opportunity to focus on putting them all together into a book. This book is an insight into my experiences with my own disability and I wanted it to be a personal, vulnerable reflection of what my life has been so far and how I have interpreted different moments in my life. Writing this book was an amazing journey of self-discovery. I learned so much about myself and I wrote the book to show people an honest behind-the-scenes look at my disabled life. I felt like this kind of story is important to share because I think often disabled people’s stories are told by others and focus on motivation, inspiration, overcoming barriers and so on, and while I think I’ve included some of this, I do hope I’ve balanced that with the hard stuff, the confusion, the funny moments that come with living with my disability. Life is a rollercoaster and I wanted people who read my book to go on that crazy journey too.

I laughed more than once while reading your book. How important is humour when writing about topics considered ‘heavy’?

It’s so important to me to have humour in the stories. Laughing and finding the funny side to an experience is one of my coping strategies so I wanted to share it. I also feel when you get people laughing, it’s disarming and allows them to think of the situation with a different perspective. Essentially, I laugh a lot and I couldn’t write a book that didn’t include that side of my personality. I love that when people have read my book they’ve said it’s like having a conversation with me, they can hear my voice, and that’s exactly what I was hoping for.

In the foreword you observe: ‘If you read something here that resonates with you, or you can relate and have had a similar experience, awesome. If you read something in here that you completely disagree with, cool. I want these stories to get you thinking; to start a conversation. Maybe I can change a few perspectives and maybe it will solidify a view that you have. I’m excited for all of it.Have you had any feedback from readers who: a) Regarded your life story as #RelatableContent?

I was quite stressed when I released the book about how it would be received, especially by other disabled people. Disability is a very personal and unique experience for each of us, but I’ve received messages from people with different disabilities who have similar experiences. One person said my book made her feel seen and far less alone. This was the best response for me and I ugly cried when I saw it because in that moment I realised there is so much we share, things we have in common, but we are silent about. Receiving that feedback made me feel I made the right decision to share my story in the way I have. I’ve had so many people reach out and say how they’ve related to something in my book even when they have a completely different context to me. That’s my favourite thing about it — people take whatever they need to.

b) Disagreed with what you wrote? 

Not yet. I’m sure they’re out there.

c) Realised perspective shifts?

I’ve had a lot of people say things like ‘I never thought about that’, which is awesome. My friends and family reading my book has been really special, because even though many of them are in the stories and were there when I lived through those times or we’ve spoken about those moments, they’ve told me reading my book has given them so much more insight and understanding about how I experience or interpret things and why I react in the ways I do. That’s very cool to me.

And finally: The chapter titled ‘For Shits and Giggles’. Please enlighten us about abluting as someone living with a disability? 

There are so many things that disability makes more complicated and we are encouraged to not talk about most of these things, like bathroom activities. I decided when writing the book that if I was going down the path of brutal honesty and vulnerability, I needed to share those things too. I think talking about all my bathroom drama makes it less taboo and, let’s be honest, everybody has an embarrassing bathroom story. I just decided to put mine in a book for others to read and enjoy.


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