Anne McDonald

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Anne McDonald (11 January 1961 – 22 October 2010) was an Australian author and an activist for the rights of people with communication disability.

McDonald was born on 11 January 1961 in Seymour, Victoria, a small Australian town. As a result of a birth injury she developed severe athetoid cerebral palsy. Because she could not walk, talk or feed herself she was diagnosed as having severe intellectual disability and at the age of three was placed by her parents in St. Nicholas Hospital, Melbourne, a Health Commission (government) institution for children with severe disabilities, and lived there without education or therapy for eleven years. During her time in the hospital she was neglected and starved and at age 16 she weighed only 12 kilograms.[1] Despite her ill-treatment, McDonald considered herself "a lucky one", who escaped through a stroke of good fortune. By her own reckoning, 163 of her friends died in the institution while she was there.[2]

In 1977, when McDonald was 16, Rosemary Crossley reported that she was able to communicate with her by supporting her upper arm while she selected word blocks and magnetic letters (when similar strategies were used in the 1980s with people with other diagnoses they became known as facilitated communication training and were the subject of fierce controversy). Through Crossley, McDonald sought her discharge from St. Nicholas. Her parents and the hospital authorities denied her request on the grounds that the reality of her communication had not been established.

In 1979, when McDonald turned eighteen, she commenced a habeas corpus action in the Supreme Court of Victoria against the Health Commission in order to win the right to leave the institution.[3][4] The court accepted that Anne McDonald’s communication was her own and allowed her to leave the hospital and live with Rosemary Crossley. Even after that case some people doubted whether she had the capacity write a book, and she had to demonstrate her abilities in the Supreme Court to win the right to manage her own financial affairs and enter into a contract with Penguin Books.[5][6]

McDonald wrote her story in Annie’s Coming Out, a book she co-authored with Rosemary Crossley in 1980. The film Annie's Coming Out, based on the book, won several Australian Film Institute awards (including Best Picture) and was released in the U.S. under the title 'Test of Love'. It won the inaugural Allen Lane Award for the best book of the year dealing with disability.

After leaving the institution McDonald got her Higher School Certificate (University entrance) qualification at night school and went on to take a humanities degree at Deakin University, completed in 1993. An editorial in the Melbourne Herald-Sun said at the time that “If walking on the moon was a giant leap for mankind as well as a small step for one man, then Anne McDonald’s graduation from university yesterday was a major lessor for society as much as it was the fulfilment of a personal dream”.[7] She authored a number of articles and papers on disability, presented at international conferences, and was active in the disability rights movement, with special emphasis on the right to communicate.[8][9][10]

On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, 3 December 2008, McDonald received the Personal Achievement Award in the Australian National Disability Awards at Parliament House. Her presentation on that occasion said "The worst thing about being an inspiration is that you have to be perfect. I am a normal person with only normal courage. Some people who should know better have tried to give me a halo. Anybody could have done what I have done if they too had been taken out of hell as I was. If you let other people without speech be helped as I was helped they will say more than I can say. They will tell you that the humanity we share is not dependent on speech. They will tell you that the power of literacy lies within us all. They will tell you that I am not an exception, only a bad example. "

McDonald died of a heart attack on 22 October 2010.[11] She received a posthumous award from the Australian Group on Severe Communication Impairment (AGOSCI). The citation read “Anne’s dedicated advocacy and activism for the human rights of people with disabilities and especially those using alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) was as inspirational as her own achievement. As author and presenter she worked tirelessly to raise the profile of people with communication disabilities. Her outstanding achievements are acknowledged and sincerely appreciated by AGOSCI.” [12]


Anne McDonald's facilitated communication story has been questioned many times, with sceptics pointing to input from the assistant.[13][14] Psychologists and policy makers have labelled facilitated communication to be, at best, ineffective wishful thinking, and at worst, actively harmful.[15][16][17]

McDonald and her story have reappeared in the news following the sexual assault case against facilitated communication aide, Anna Stubblefield.[18]

Related Reading[edit]


  1. ^ Rosemary Crossley, "Speechless: Facilitating Communication for People Without Voices", Dutton Adult (1997), ISBN 0-525-94156-8
  2. ^ Carman, Gerry "Persistence and passion speak loudest" (obituary). The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 November 2010
  3. ^ David J. Clark, Gerard McCoy, "Habeas corpus: Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific", pp. 120, Federation Press, Sydney (2000), ISBN 1-86287-302-X
  4. ^ Susan Hayes and Robert Hayes, "Simply Criminal", pp. 51, The Law Book Company Limited, Sydney (1984), ISBN 0-455-20279-6
  5. ^ Rosemary Crossley, "Speechless: Facilitating Communication for People Without Voices", Dutton Adult (1997), ISBN 0-525-94156-8
  7. ^ Editorial, Sunday Herald Sun, May 29, 1994
  8. ^ Alternate home website
  9. ^ Intelligence goes beyond motor skill
  10. ^ Facebook page []
  11. ^ "annie-has-gone-but-her-legacy-and-fighting-spirit-live-on". The Age
  12. ^ Sue Owen, Chairperson, Agosci, 14 May 2011
  13. ^ "More Doubts over Disability ‘Miracle’ | Disability Advocacy Resource Unit (DARU)". Retrieved 2016-01-16. 
  14. ^ Rule, Andrew (May 14, 2012). "Rosemary's Baby" (PDF). Retrieved Jan 16, 2016. 
  15. ^ Auerbach, David (2015-11-12). "Facilitated Communication Is a Cult That Won’t Die". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 2016-01-16. 
  16. ^ "FRONTLINE: previous reports: transcripts: prisoners of silence | PBS". Retrieved 2016-01-16. 
  17. ^ Jordan, Rita (1998). Research Report 77: Educational Interventions for Children With Autism: A Literature Review of Recent And Current Research. Department for Education and Employment. 
  18. ^ Engber, Daniel (2015-10-20). "The Strange Case of Anna Stubblefield". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-01-16. 

Add to fn 3: The Queen and the Health Commission of Victoria, George Lipton and Dennis McGinn, ex parte Anne McDonald, Unreported Victoria Supreme Court [1979].

External links[edit]