Review: Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century edited by Alice Wong

Anna: Why do we read? For entertainment, yes, but part of that enjoyment comes from the thrill of briefly living in and therefore learning about an experience that’s not your own. My favorite books as a kid featured fantasy worlds like Hogwarts and Narnia. As a mature reader, I still find myself reaching for different worlds, but I’m less interested in fantasy. I’m more interesting in learning about the every day lives of other people around the world.

That being said, when I kept hearing about Disability Visibility I realized there was a huge gap in my reading experience.

Disability Visibility is an essay collection edited by the activist Alice Wong. I do not identify as a disabled person, so please take my words with a grain of salt. But this book came highly rated and recommended by disabled people in the bookish community.

This book gives space to an amazing amount of different voices. The essays are about prejudice, misrepresentation in the media, accessibility, advocacy, and perhaps most importantly, just being a disabled person.

This collection also got me thinking about just how many “first person” narratives I’ve really read about disability, both fiction and nonfiction. It’s no new thing that disability has long been misrepresented in the media, especially in the issue of own voices representation. As a teenager I, unfortunately, consumed what I now call “trauma porn”, which romanticized illness and disability and killed off characters, promoting the harmful ideas that disabled bodies are better off dead. This included The Fault in our Stars and Me Before You, the movie adaptation of which casted an able-bodied actor for the role of a quadriplegic.

Now, I try to research authors before reading books, to make sure I read own voices stories. We also like to think that we’re slowly moving toward a more accepting and accessible society. I know that being an ally is more than slapping closed captions on my Instagram stories and reading just one book about disability. But I hope this is just the beginning of my disability reading and learning journey.

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