‘I know so many incredibly talented, determined people who happen to have a learning disability and I wanted their stories to reach more people.’ Finding the word limit of regular articles too restrictive to fully tell the stories of people too often unheard, journalist Saba Salman decided to create a space for sharing these experiences with her book Made Possible: Stories of success by people with learning disabilities – in their own words.
Regularly writing for The
Guardian on issues relating to social affairs, public and third sectors, and welfare and disability issues,
Saba aims to inform on the impact long-term austerity continues to have on
those with learning disabilities as well as concerns for the long-term effects
of lockdown during the COVID-19 crisis.
Can you introduce your book in a couple of sentences?
Made Possible: Stories of success by people with learning
in their own words blows stereotypes about
learning disability out of the water. While it doesn’t shy away from the
injustice learning disabled people face, it’s ultimately an uplifting read that
proves everyone is human, everyone has potential and that society is poorer for
assuming aspiration doesn’t apply to people with
Could you tell us about how you came to write Made Possible?
Made Possible wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for
my youngest sister Raana, who has the learning disability fragile X
syndrome. I was often asked what I wanted to be when I was a child, but Raana
never got asked the same question. Society judges us on what we bring to
the table, so if it’s assumed that some of us have nothing to
contribute then it follows that society regards some of us as less than human.
I wanted to challenge that assumption by describing my sister’s potential and
Also, through my social affairs reporting, I know that
deadlines and word counts mean that my articles don’t offer people’s stories
enough room to breathe. I know so many incredibly talented,
determined people who happen to have a learning disability and I
wanted their stories to reach more people. The context also makes
this a timely book; years of austerity have stripped back support for people
like my sister, which undermines their chances of flourishing.
Are you working on another book, or do you have other
projects under way?
There is something in the pipeline, loosely linked to Made
Possible but I’m also keen to get back to my usual reporting. Learning
disabled people are among the groups generally overlooked in the national
response to COVID-19, and there’s a real concern about what the long-term
impact of lockdown will be in terms of their support.
Can you offer any advice to other journalists thinking about
writing a book that collates individual stories like Made Possible?
It’s an all-consuming experience, so time, patience and
flexibility are vital. As an editor, collaborating closely with the book’s
contributors to get their stories on the page, I also had to mute my
own ‘voice’ to make sure each essayist’s voice remained paramount – despite my
personal connection to the book’s subject matter.
What books are you reading right now, or about to pick up?
For fiction, I’ve gone back to the sublime Margaret Atwood (Hag-Seed) and for non-fiction Excellent Essex by Gillian Darley, an eye-opening retelling of a county that everyone assumes they know.
Are there any other examples of your everyday journalism
that you’re especially proud of or would just like to share?
Generally, I’m really proud of the stories I’ve worked
on with family campaigners and learning disabled people themselves to reveal
the discrimination they experience and the barriers they face thanks to Government
policies. More recently, as the UK was going into lockdown, I felt it was crucial
to report the fact that COVID-19 is exacerbating the inequality faced by people
like my sister, Raana.
Are you available for freelance commissions, speaker
opportunities or other roles?
Absolutely. I enjoyed talking about Made Possible on Radio 4’s Today
programme and appeared on BBC Breakfast to give a personal view of the impact
of enforced separation on families of learning disabled people.
If I’m a PR professional with a story or another opportunity
for you, how should I get in touch?
Email’s best, preferably with clear detail in the
subject line so I know it’s relevant to my brief. Also anything addressed
to ‘Mr Salman’ or ‘Dear Salman’ winds up in the trash (friendly tip:
I know I’ve got an unusual name, but maybe check before assuming I’m a bloke?).
Made Possible: Stories of success by
people with learning disabilities – in their own words (28/05/2020,
Unbound) is available in paperback here and
on Kindle on Amazon. Follow
Saba on Twitter @Saba_Salman and
read her work at The Guardian here. Find updates
featuring the contributors to Made
Possible on the book’s Facebook page.