When I was in middle school in Mexico I went to a private all-girls school and one of my classmates was blind. She was one of the smartest people in the class and as far as I can remember, she participated in just about every activity we had with just some assistance from the teacher. I can’t quite remember how it happened but there was a news story about her and her achievements in school and she tried to make her case to the interviewer that what she really needed to further succeed was a computer for blind people. I remember that she was upset later because when the news came out there was no mention about the computer, just a lot of praise and amazement that she was blind and yet she was doing so well in school. Now I understand that the interviewer and the media only wanted that feel good story but didn’t care to further help her with what she truly needed. I also understand now that she was probably one of the more fortunate blind people in Mexico, able to get an education at a private school with teachers who seemed to be able to help her as best as they could. Otherwise, I would encounter blind people in the subway, singing, playing an accordion while someone led them through the crowded aisles. I now have more of a perspective on how it wasn’t a consequence of their lack of sight that led them to beg in the street but because of society’s lack of support.
In Disability Visibility I was able to learn about many other types of disabilities and the people who live with them. How they live, how they try and thrive in a world that doesn’t seem to care much about them. It’s a book about the realities and not about feel good stories, like the one told about my middle school friend. I loved the diversity of people that we hear from, we hear from men, women, non-binary people, queer, straight, trans people, and more! To try to summarize all of that here would be impossible but trust me that throughout this book you get to meet many amazing people and learn about what they’ve been through and what they hope to accomplish. Alice Wong put together a great array of stories and you can also see more of her work at the Disability Visibility Project website.
As I finished each story I went to see what the author was doing now or to learn more about them and their endeavors. I also stopped a lot to think about what I had just read, to process and let it sink in. These are not easy stories to read, in fact, quite a few of them have content warnings at the beginning of each story so it makes it easier to read carefully.
There were some stories in the book that really did blow my mind in the sense that if disabled people were given all the resources that they needed to thrive, they would be able to contribute so much to society! Specifically I think of the story by Wanda Díaz-Merced, which is actually a TED talk that was transcribed for the book. Wanda Díaz-Merced is an astrophysicist who lost her sight late in her career, but she managed to find a different way to study space and one that ended up giving more information to scientists than by just visual means. As non-disabled people we think that there are only so many ways to do things in our lives, but in fact, there are many ways to do things. If we can be more open minded, there really would be endless possibilities! These aren’t stories of people doing things despite their disability, these are stories of people using all of themselves to live their life as best as they can and fight for what they believe in.
I highly encourage non-disabled people to read this book. There are endless social aspects that affect people with disabilities, from public transportation, architecture, scientific research, legal rights, etc., but where they are not given a thought. I realized for example, my house is not accessible to people who use wheelchairs! My workplace does not have an elevator to the second floor! We can at least start noticing and asking for the people in charge to make things accessible to disabled people around us. And even more importantly, we can empathize with their stories and the obstacles that are put in their lives and help remove those obstacles as best as we can.