Review: Disability Visibility

Two images of the book cover side by side. It has title and the background is triangles in bright colors almost like a prism. There are lines running down the on the background that seem like pencil. They are gray and are a little wavy rather than straight.

Title: Disability Visibility (Adapted for Young Adults) 17 First-Person Stories for Today
Editor: Alice Wong

Publisher’s Summary: The seventeen eye-opening essays in Disability Visibility, all written by disabled people, offer keen insight into the complex and rich disability experience, examining life’s ableism and inequality, its challenges and losses, and celebrating its wisdom, passion, and joy.

The accounts in this collection ask readers to think about disabled people not as individuals who need to be “fixed,” but as members of a community with its own history, culture, and movements. They offer diverse perspectives that speak to past, present, and future generations. It is essential reading for all.

My thoughts: This book is a space that is created for and by disabled people, much like s.e. smith writes about in the final essay about the beauty of these kinds of places. As smith explains, spaces like this can be “a place where disability is celebrated and embraced–something radical and taboo in many parts of the world and sometimes even for people in those spaces.” Editor Alice Wong shares a little about her own story and a variety of other stories from disabled individuals who know their own experiences best. As Wong writes in the introduction, “this anthology is not Disability 101,” but is simply small views into the lives of disabled people moving through the world at this point in time.  Yes, it is a way for those outside the disability community to see from another perspective, but above all, the book speaks to young people with disabilities. So many of the contributors did not see themselves in media in helpful or meaningful ways when they were young and this is one way to change that for the current generation.

As with any anthology, there is a wide variation in writing styles and some stories resonate more than others. There are perspectives here that will likely be entirely new to individual readers and others that are more easily relatable, but either way, there is much to think about. The challenges, opportunities, connections, and experiences readers see will undoubtedly cause them to question many things in daily life.

The book is organized into four parts: Being, Becoming, Doing, and Connecting. The stories are pretty loosely related to those specific titles and some seemed like they would fit into multiple places, but it was nice to have some kind of break that allows or encourages readers to pause. Another feature is the content notes with some of the pieces so readers can assess whether or not a story is one they want to delve into. This doesn’t detract in any way and could allow some readers to protect or prepare themselves.

The many perspectives may broaden a reader’s idea of what it means to be disabled. This is an example of that phrase “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Readers learn what it was like for Jeremy Woody to be deaf and in prison, for Keah Brown to embrace joy as a black woman with cerebral palsy, or for Ricardo Thornton to have an intellectual disability and live in an institution in contrast to living out in the community. Sometimes the contributors make it very clear what their specific disability is, but at times, that isn’t the central part of their story so it isn’t mentioned. Identity, relationships, communication, and other things through the lens of disability are more the focus.

One thread I see that winds through many of the stories is the need to be in relationship and be connected to others in healthy ways. So many of the contributors speak of isolation and the changes that have to happen for connection to be possible. Often the focus is on fixing people that many societies deem broken and that’s not what brings about the change and increases opportunities. The improvement of access along with changes in the way our society operates and perceives disability are going to be the key. Getting stories out into the world like they are doing in this book is  one way to work towards that.

Recommendation: Get it now. This is a book that should be available in every space where there are books and/or media for young people. It is also available as an audiobook and I would recommend that as well.

Publisher: Delacorte Press
Pages: 160
Review copy: Library
Availability: On shelves now