Writing and my disability have been intertwined for most of my life. My speech disability and the spastic movements of my body often make oral communication difficult, and take away almost all of my opportunities to impress the listener in professional situations. Yet, as a writer, I am confident in my ability to put forward a powerful message and have relied on it in my efforts to carve out a career. Approaching two decades worth of experience in using my writing ability to find my place in the world, I believe more than ever that the relationship between writing and disability is one that can be powerful for the disability community on a large scale.
When I was mainstreamed in the 8th grade, it truly hit me for the first time how much my speech disability was going to impact my life. At times I literally had to type out messages for teachers in order to be understood and to deal with the nervousness of having to suddenly communicate in an environment that was unfamiliar and often unfriendly to people with disabilities, especially speech disabilities. In my senior year of high school, I was introduced to journaling, which became a great source of relief in giving me a place to put some of the frustration and anger that can accompany life with a disability. Sometimes, it was simply a place to have my perspective be understood when none other seemed available. Journaling became a habit that lasted into my 30s.
The importance of writing has only grown in my life. Not only has it been the only thing that has lead to employment, I have begun to realize that writing has sustained me during extended periods of not having work. Except for the fear of being overly dramatic, I might even call it lifesaving.
Writing is something no one can ever take away from me. It gives me a voice on the issue of the day, whether I write an article on my own blog or I'm fortunate enough to have it published to a larger audience. The pursuit of "The Great American Novel" helps fulfill not only my artistic ambition, but, for better or worse, my desire to live the American Dream of financial success. I can never be laid off from the grind of writing that can offer personal enjoyment as well as the opportunity to strive toward professional goals.
Like any other craft, writing requires learning from others in order to do it well. Often in my experience with workshopping material in a classroom I was the only person with a disability in the class. While the feedback I received was still as valid and worthwhile as people generally receive in those environments, my classmates couldn't possibly offer the insights or critiques on pieces that centered on disability that others with disabilities might. The innate understanding of living with a disability would seem to allow for greater, more in-depth give-and-take on stories. It will allow the perspective being offered to be challenged by people who truly grasp it, and, therefore, enhance the work and the writer's future efforts. At the same time, it is going to allow for more attention to be given to developing the story, character, scene, and so on, as time won't be wasted by classmates who don't have a basic knowledge of disability. It's analysis that a student with a disability who is writing about the disability experience may never receive in a "typical" class.
The efforts of other communities to tell their own story is well documented and is now a regular part of cinema and literature. I believe more than ever that taking control of our story is the next big step in our efforts to become equals to our able-bodied counterparts.
That effort is certainly not new in the disability community, but it's important for us to work together to move it forward. We know our story better than anyone. We bring an experience, not just to our writing, but to each other that no one else can offer.
Whether for personal enrichment or professional ambition, writing is a powerful skill to possess, one that I think can be particularly useful to people with disabilities. Learning how to use it well may be one of the most powerful tools we can give each other.