Disability Visibility: 17 First-Person Stories for Today edited by Alice Wong

Disability Visibility: 17 First-Person Stories for Today (adapted for young readers) edited by Alice Wong. Delacorte Press, c2020, 2021. 9780593381670

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Essays

What did you like about the book?  In this collection of short, first-person essays (adapted from her 2020 book for adults), Alice Wong has recruited 17 disabled people to speak to four main themes around disability: being, becoming, doing, and connecting. Wong also created the Disability Visibility Project (in cooperation with StoryCorps) recording oral history testimonials from disabled people; these essays read like written versions of those pieces. Each is 3-4 pages and great care has been taken to include young people from a range of backgrounds, various races, and differing levels of disability. Readers will hear from a Black women with congenital idiopathic nystagmus, from an incarcerated Deaf man with cancer, from a man with chronic Lyme disease, and from a queer Asian American woman who is a wheelchair user with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, among many others. Wong is big on self-identification and encouraging the disabled not to dismiss themselves as “not disabled enough.” I really appreciated that each writer found their own way to describe their disability and provide enough background information so I could understand their condition without resorting to an internet search. So much of this information was totally new to me and, I’m sorry to say, raised points I’d never even stopped to think about: do disabled Muslims fast during Ramadan? How do you interview a user of adaptive technology? Why don’t we think of incontinence as a public health issue? I found Wong’s central theme, that only by allowing the disabled to speak for themselves can they become visible, intriguing and powerful. A few of the essays are preceded by content notes that serve as trigger warnings. A short “Further readings” list and permission acknowledgements round out the book.

Anything you didn’t like about it? I wish there had been biographies of all the contributors, either introducing their essays or in the back matter. Also, these essays were collected, not written for the book, so a few are older (for example, Ricardo Thornton’s testimony before the Senate is from 2012 and Maysoon Zayid’s essay on fasting, which first appeared in 2015).

To whom would you recommend this book?  Students interested in the representation of disabled people. The entire collection is a quick and compelling read, but individual essays could also be excerpted for class discussion and analysis.

Who should buy this book? High school and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Nonfiction 305.9

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: January 7, 2022

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