I’m delighted to share my new anthology adapted for young readers, DISABILITY VISIBILITY: 17 First-Person Stories for Today, available now from Delacorte Press. This book has 17 edited pieces from my 2020 anthology plus a new introduction that you can read in its entirety below. For more, check out this review from Kirkus Reviews and this interview from We Need Diverse Books. Enjoy!
“To my younger self and all the disabled kids today who can’t imagine their futures. The world is ours, and this is for all of us.”
Storytelling itself is an activity, not an object. Stories are the closest we can come to shared experience. . . Like all stories, they are most fundamentally a chance to ride around inside another head and be reminded that being who we are and where we are, and doing what we’re doing, is not the only possibility.
—Harriet McBryde Johnson, Too Late to Die Young: Nearly True Tales from a Life (2006)
I’ve loved reading ever since I was young. Books were my friends, and libraries were safe spaces where I felt like I belonged. During gym in elementary school, I would sit on the sidelines and read a book. No one seemed to notice, and that was just fine by me. Writers such as Judy Blume, Laurence Yep, Madeleine L’Engle, Beatrix Potter, and Beverly Cleary and their characters made life fun and exciting even though that wasn’t the case in real life.
Having had a physical disability from birth, I knew I was different from my classmates. It took me longer to get around when I walked; I fell and lost my balance easily, which made recess scary rather than a time for play. I had some friends, but I felt alone at the same time. There were many activities at school I couldn’t participate in, but I had an imagination that unlocked universes and showed me alternate realities where I could exist in new, daring, and unknown ways.
Fast forward to 2021. I am a forty-seven-year-old disabled writer, editor, and activist and a big-time troublemaker! Being middle-aged sounds ancient, but I am a total kid because so many things give me LIFE and I find deep joy doing what I want to do. I don’t think I’ve “made it” yet—I’m still figuring stuff out—but I can say for sure that my life got better. Two things helped me: telling my own story and finding my people.
As a young adult, I never heard many stories about or saw images of people like myself. I didn’t have any adult role models who were similar to me. In 2014, I became an activist and created the Disability Visibility Project (DVP), a campaign to record oral histories in partnership with StoryCorps, a national oral history organization. I wanted to expand disability history and encourage disabled people to celebrate and preserve their stories in the lead-up to the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2015.
What started as a one-year oral history project kept going and blew up into a movement. The DVP now has approximately 140 oral histories on record at StoryCorps, a small but mighty archive of the disability zeitgeist. And the project has expanded into an online community that creates, shares, and amplifies disability media and culture through a podcast, articles, Twitter chats, and more.
One reason I tell my own story and share the stories of other amazing disabled people is because I want the world to reflect us—we are diverse, brilliant, and unique. More important, we should tell our stories in our own words; we are the experts about our lives.
Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century is my latest storytelling project in the form of an anthology. The version you are reading now has been adapted for young adults from one published by Vintage Books in 2020. Later, you may want to check out that edition, which features stories from thirty-seven disabled people. You can learn more about the book and find a free discussion guide and a plain-language summary on my website, disabilityvisibilityproject.com/book.
The purpose of Disability Visibility is to share a small snapshot of disability experience from this current time period. Each person’s story is different, but they are all personal, powerful, and political. This anthology is not Disability 101 or a definitive “best of” list. These stories do not seek to explain the meaning of disability, and they are not focused on being “special” or “inspirational.” Rather, they show disabled people simply being in our own words, by our own accounts. Disability Visibility is also one part of my evolving story as a human being.
Since the stories cover a broad span of topics, the book is divided into four sections: Being, Becoming, Doing, and Connecting. You will find content notes at the beginning of stories that discuss issues that may be traumatic or distressing, and you can choose to engage with the material or not. Content notes are included as a form of access and self-protection, giving you information on what to expect before reading.
Whether you are disabled or not, some of the ideas and words may be new or uncomfortable for you, and that is the point! I hope they challenge you to think about disability, accessibility, and ableism in new ways and encourage you to learn more long after reading this book.
If you are a young disabled person, I want to share a few things with you as an old kid who has been around the inaccessible block a few times:
Things will get better. Life can be frustrating and weird right now, but you will figure things out eventually. Each person is on their own path and timeline. And if things are going great for you right now, all right, all right, all right!
You are enough. Don’t let anyone ever make you feel less than or unworthy of love, access, attention, and care. You deserve everything. One of the hardest things I continue to struggle with is believing that I am worthy. Free advice: if you don’t ask for what you want and believe that you are entitled to it, no one else will (unless you are a mediocre white man).
However you identify, whether you ever use the term “disabled” or not, you are not alone. There are communities waiting to connect with and embrace you. One of the best things that happened to me is finding a disability community on social media and in the San Francisco Bay Area. There is so much out there for you to explore and enjoy!
Disability Visibility is a springboard for you to reflect and question why things are the way they are and to take action in your everyday life. This is the book I wish I had as a teenager, and if it gives you joy and something to think about, that’s all that matters. Each person has a story; it’s up to you to discover yours and tell it if you want. The world is yours, and I cannot wait for you to find your power and community. To mix two of my fandoms, may the Force be with you, and live long and prosper.