Author and activist Alice Wong sees her book Disability Visibility as a stepping stone for people to participate in disability culture.
Wong’s Anthology of Disability Writings and Speeches is the University of Kansas’ Common Book of the Year and is used in classrooms across campus to share disability culture with students.
Wong said in a recent email that college campuses are prime places for young people to become politically conscious and active.
“Like many college students, I was politicized around that time and started being an activist, starting with campus policies and the local community,” Wong said.
“Disability Visibility” will be a tool to help people understand how disability discrimination, discrimination against people with disabilities, is built into every facility, Wong said. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this discrimination, she added.
“Many universities have COVID-related policies that put disabled, chronically ill, and immunocompromised students, staff, and faculty at risk,” Wong said. “Recognizing our interconnectedness, the inherent humanity in all of us, and the pervasive marginalization of people with disabilities is the first step in working towards a more inclusive, diverse and equitable world. ”
Conversations around “visibility of disability” on campus can lead to greater student awareness of systemic inequities. Many professors at the university make books part of their curriculum, and class UNIV 101 spends a lot of time on common books and common works of art.
The relationship between art and common books
This year’s Common Work of Art — Untitled (Sound Sculpture) by Harry Bertoia — is a sound sculpture made of thin brass rods that produces resonant sounds when touched. The work correlates with this year’s Common Book because it stimulates the senses in multiple ways and is accessible to different groups of people, such as the blind.
Kate Meyer, a curator at the Spencer Art Museum, said that as long as a university had a Common Book, there was a Common Work of Art to accompany it.
Meyer said she sees classes interacting with artwork and having conversations about art and accessibility. Emphasizing accessibility, she wrote up her proposal for this work to be selected.
“It needs to be accessible, especially if one of the themes of the book is accessibility, so we had to be more creative about what the Common Work of Art should be,” says Meyer. .
The sound sculptures can be viewed at the museum’s Jacques and Lavon Brosseau learning center until May 14, 2023.
KU aims to engage students
Other ways students and faculty interact with the Common Book include conversations that take place throughout the year.
Sarah Goodwin Thiel, a faculty member and community engagement librarian, said she’s been moved by the reaction across campus about the book.
“When the book was selected and read in the library, it was so exciting to read these different essays and get these perspectives from different people. This is really powerful,” Thiel said. say.
The Common Book selection process begins before the next academic year and decisions are made from nominations considered by the Steering Committee. Assistant Librarian Jill Becker is on this committee and read the book last spring.
“It really opened my eyes to the spectrum of disability,” said Becker. “We need to talk about these things and learn about the experiences of all our students and faculty so we can always do a better job.”
Events like November 30th help fuel discussion about books. Becker said these discussions are particularly important on the subject of “visibility of disability.”
“A lot of what I’m involved with is related to classroom experiences, teaching, and making learning materials easier to access,” says Becker. “And making things more accessible helps everyone in the class, which is kind of a click for the instructor.”
Disability Visibility’s writings are extensive and cover topics such as climate change, mass incarceration and sexual violence. According to Wong, this is intentional, as every problem is also a disability problem. Wong said the book opens the door for people without disabilities to understand the “joy, beauty and creativity of people with disabilities.”
The lives of people with disabilities are more than common tropes and stereotypes, and Wong said the idea that disability is a tragedy reflects a society centered around white supremacy, disabilityism, and capitalism. said that he is
Wong is moving forward with plans for the Disability Visibility Project
Her mission to share stories of disability will continue next year. Wong said 2022 will be full of ups and downs. Her memoir, Year of the Tiger, was published, but she also spent four weeks in the ICU, where she was unable to eat or speak after several medical crises.
the future of [Disability Visibility Project] I will continue to publish essays by people with disabilities on my website and collaborate on other projects such as my new favorite, The Society of Disabled Oracles,” said Wong.
Her upcoming anthology, Disability Intimacy, is an exciting project to work on, and she hopes to generate interest on college campuses, she added.
Wong will make a virtual visit to KU on February 22nd and 23rd to talk with students.
“People with disabilities go far beyond how society values us, and people without disabilities stop learning and act when they claim to be ‘good allies’ or supporters of social justice. “I also hope that people without disabilities will enjoy this book and recognize the mutual relationships we all share.”