Alice Wong interviewed Ing Wong-Ward for the Disability Visibility Project® at StoryCorps San Francisco on August 25, 2016. Ing shares with Alice how she became a journalist and a disabled parent. Ing also talks about her family and her daughter Zhenmei.
ING WONG-WARD: And so, I grew up in Toronto and decided when I was a teenager that I wanted to be a journalist in part because one of my friends in junior high had, her mother had entered a contest with a local magazine. And the magazine profiled this girl as the great savior of me, the disabled girl, and it didn’t go over well.
ALICE WONG: Mm.
ING: I thought at the age of 13 I could do better than this; I can write better than this person.
ING: And so, that was my goal. I went to journalism school, Ryerson University, and graduated and soon thereafter got a job answering the phones in Human Resources at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. And I spent 22 years there and recently left in December to join the Center for Independent Living in Toronto as the Associate Director. I’m married, married my university boyfriend, Tim, who also changed his last name ‘cause he’s a progressive kinda guy. And we have this—well, you’ve met her now—she’s like quite the character, eight-year-old Zhenmei.
ALICE: She’s a whirlwind!
ING: Yeah, she’s a total whirlwind. She’s high octane. She’s firing on all cylinders. She likes to read. She likes to eat.
ALICE: When we were just hanging out a minute ago, we were just going through the exhibits and talking about art.
ING: She’s full of opinions.
ALICE: And it was just like I learned all about her dioramas.
ALICE: She did a horse and a panda diorama.
ALICE: I learned all about that.
ING: Yes, oh my goodness. So, she told you everything basically in five minutes.
ALICE: Basically, yeah.
ING: Yeah, that’s good. That means she likes you.
[mellow piano music break]
ING: I think Zhenmei, you know, when we talk about understanding disability, she’s had to deal with questions from her classmates about me. Like, there was one little kid that once ask her, “Did your mommy have a wheelchair in her mommy’s tummy?”
ING: And Zhenmei asked me. I said, “No, it doesn’t work that way, you know,” and explained why. And then one day, a kid said, “Does your mommy talk?” And Zhenmei looked at the kid and said, “Yes, my mum talks. Go up to her and ask her a question.”
ING: So, the kid actually came up to me and said, “I like your hair.” And I said, “Thank you.” And she said, “That’s the one who thinks you can’t talk. Now you’ve proven you can talk!”
So, Zhenmei in her own way has been a very young advocate, and I sometimes wonder about that. I wonder if she feels pressure, and she does. And we talk about, “Are you uncomfortable? Do you ever wish that your mom wasn’t disabled? Do you ever wish that your mom wasn’t in a wheelchair?” She’s like, “Nope. Nope. I just love you for who you are,” you know? So, she rides on the back of my wheelchair. We do lots of things together.
ALICE: That was one of the best photos I saw on Facebook.
ING: Oh yeah!
ALICE: Where you both did a, I think a friend of yours did a illustration, I think.
ING: Yes, that was for the book.
ALICE: It was a beautiful illustration! For the sake of the listeners, can you describe the image because—
ING: Sure, yeah. My friend, Cory Silverberg, years ago wrote a book called What Makes a Baby. And What Makes a Baby was a Kickstarter campaign. So, he wanted to do a progressive sex ed book for kids that didn’t involve a mommy and a daddy. He came to me and said, “Would you let Zhenmei be in the pitch for this book, a video?” And I said, “Sure,” you know. Not that big of a deal. I didn’t think much would come of it. And the thing went viral, so now she has to live down that at the age of three, she was in a pitch for a book about sex ed.
ING: And then he came up with the second book, Sex Is a Funny Word. And there’s an illustration in it with Zhenmei and I. It was clearly us. It was like a little kid riding on the back of a mom’s wheelchair. And I remember we posted a photo, so we figure his illustrator used the photo, which is cool. That was totally fine. But it was just nice as a reflection of the different types of families that exist, you know.
ALICE: And I think again, there’s not enough—speaking of media and reporting—there really aren’t enough stories of disabled parents.
ING: No, and I think that’s really, that is one of the things that I think about a lot that, in many ways, having Zhenmei was probably, as a person with a disability, one of the most radical things I’ve done, as a radical act.
ALICE: Yeah, yeah. And it’s ironic because I think for most non-disabled people, having children is a ordinary, traditional act.
ING: Yes. Yeah, and I mean for everybody else, it is considered traditional. For me, it was definitely radical. And I feel weird characterizing it that way because she is her own person, and we have a very typical mother-daughter relationship where sometimes I get really mad at her, and she gets really mad at me. We love each other very intensely. Sometimes she comes to me when she’s upset. Sometimes I have to yell at her about cleaning up her room. But at the same time, I recognize that by having her and being her mother in public, I’m making a major statement about a whole bunch of things: about being a disabled woman, about sexuality, about reproduction. And at the same time, it’s like we’re just a family, you know?
ING: We have to do family things and make family decisions like any other family, with obvious considerations because I have attendants coming in and out of my home and people who are involved with our lives that other people may not have. But you know, Zhenmei is nonplussed about all of it. And the neighborhood that we live in is really great. No one’s ever made a fuss. I’ve never had— I was really scared when I was pregnant that when I had my baby, there would be this judgment of, “What are you doing? How dare you.” And that actually hasn’t happened in eight years of her life, which I find says so much about Toronto.
ALICE: Wow. Yep.
ING: I think it says so much about my neighborhood. I think it says so much about my city.
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Disability Visibility Project®. (2018, December 1). DVP Interview: Ing Wong-Ward and Alice Wong. Retrieved from: https://disabilityvisibilityproject.com/2018/12/01/dvp-interview-ing-wong-ward-and-alice-wong/
On the left is Ing Wong-Ward, a Chinese Canadian disabled woman with short black hair and a cream top with black decorative print on the sleeves. She is in a wheelchair with a belt across her chest. On the right is Alice Wong, a Chinese American disabled woman with short black hair and a black shirt with small white cat paw prints. She is in a wheelchair and wearing a mask over her nose attached to a tube for her ventilator.
“The Temperature of the Air on the Bow of the Kaleetan” by Chris Zabriskie. (Source: freemusicarchive.org. Licensed under an Attribution License.)
Produced for the Disability Visibility Project® by Alice Wong. Interview recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the story of our lives. For more: www.storycorps.org and www.disabilityvisibilityproject.com