Finding a place; Greek post-war migrants’ experiences of raising children with disability in Australia

Year: 2021

Author: Spandagou, Ilektra, Proctor, Helen

Type of paper: Individual Paper

Inclusive education is a relatively new field, grounded in the present and forward-looking. The nature of the field and its call for educational reform means that providing a vision for the future is more of a priority than probing the past. It is worth considering the relevance of historical inquiry to the field and what kind of contributions can make in the current environment where the past raises concerns about the direction of the future. More than 200,000 people identified as culturally Greek migrated to Australia between 1947 and 1977. For many, the transition involved movement from rural, close-knit communities into large, bureaucratised cities. In the communities of origin responses to illness and disability mingled folklore, religion, and traditional and western medicine. A strong family culture of care combined with familial and societal stigma formed a complex response to disability and caring responsibilities. Within Australia, disability was typically managed through bureaucratic structures. These systems of care, education and welfare constructed disability as a deviation from developmental norms and commonly perceived migrant parenting as lacking, or culturally backward. It is in this intersection of old and new place, culture and language, and formal and informal education that the migrant parents came to terms with disability.This inter-cultural and dual-language research study explores the loss and creation of communities, inclusion and exclusion, and the role of formal and informal education. This oral history project about the experiences of post-war Greek origin migrants who are now the parents of adult children with disabilities, examining their understandings and recollections of “disability”, migration, and the role of education. A series of in-depth interviews were conducted with first-generation Greek migrant parents of one or more adult children with a disability that was diagnosed in childhood. The paper discusses how the interviewees represent the networks and supports available to them, and the constructions of disability they formulated at different times in navigating institutional-policy systems of diagnosis and education. It discusses also how the interviewees approach the present and future for them and their children and the role that education still plays in their lives. The project looks at the life span of these participants within what we theorise as “community”: a community that was left behind, and a new community that was created in the new country and still changes and evolves. The parents and their children are approached as active creators of community, both in making meaning and in defining what is possible.