Reading Disability

New Year’s Resolutions are often more trouble than they’re worth, mainly leading to guilt and unworn workout gear, plus it’s almost March anyway, but at the beginning of the year I did set myself one goal (besides finishing this damn PhD); to focus my reading on works by disabled people, particularly life-writing by disabled women.

One of the struggles when looking at disability representation is that in most representations in the mainstream, whether it’s film, television, literature, news etc, disabled people are the subject, written about from a non-disabled perspective, but don’t often get to speak or write for themselves. When we do, our work is rarely read outside of the community unless it’s yet another abled-gazey, inspiration porn article about finding love, or climbing a mountain, or going to the shops (you know, the things that abled people find inspirational).

Our experiences are important, and deserve to be read widely, especially considering that many non-disabled people’s only experience of disability and our lives come from inaccurate, shallow and stereotypical portrayals in the media. In my own reading of these texts I’ve found, for the first time, writing that speaks to me fully as a disabled person, and from conversations I’ve had with other disabled people, all with very different lives and experiences, I know I am not the only one.

Below I’ve put together a partial list of published work by disabled women. I’m focussing on memoirs, essay collections and ‘life-writing’ (which is maybe not surprising seeing as my own work is on disabled women’s life experiences). Some I have already read, others are on my to-read list. They cover physical impairments, mental illness, chronic illness, sex, love, activism, family, work, and much more. This list is by no means exhaustive (and is overwhelmingly white and American at the moment) so please comment below or tweet me (@cat_sierra) with your suggestions.

Waist-High in the World: Life Amongst the Non-Disabled- Nancy Mairs
Too Late to Die Young- Harriet McBride Johnson
Wishful Drinking-Carrie Fisher
Shockaholic- Carrie Fisher
The Cancer Journals- Audre Lorde
Hot Wet & Shaking: How I Learned to Talk About Sex- Kaleigh Thrace
Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home- Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Don’t Call Me Inspirational: A Disabled Feminist Talks Back- Harilyn Russo
My Body Politic- Simi Linton

Is Disability Fashion’s Forgotten Diversity Frontier?

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 10.54.32

[Image: a screen cap of the headline “Is disability fashion’s forgotten diversity frontier?”. The subheading reads “When it comes to diversity, there’s one area that often goes unmentioned – but who’s making a difference and where is there still work to be done?” taken from the Dazed website]

I was interviewed on Dazed’s website about disabled models, the importance of visibility, and why we need to go beyond tokenism when it comes to representation. You can read it here.

#DisabilityBeauty, Reclamation, and Radical Pleasure

Last week I was lucky enough to take part in one of Easter Seals Thrive’s regular Twitter chats on disability. The subject this time was beauty and clothing, tackling things such as disability representation in the fashion industry, our personal relationships with fashion, the near-universal fugness of assistive equipment, and our favourite clothing hacks (leggings, leggings, leggings). It was a great conversation and you can (no, should!) check out on Storify here, or by searching the #DisabilityBeauty hashtag on Twitter.  (more…)

Beauty Against The Grain


Mirror, mirror [Image description: A photo of myself taken in a small round table-top mirror, I have short, purple hair and I am wearing black framed glasses and a brown faux fur coat. Behind the mirror on the table there is a collection of my makeup]

This essay originally appeared in Issue 1 of Doll Hospital. You can buy a digital copy of the journal here. Posted with permission.

I was a pretty good kid, standard-issue teenage grumpiness aside, and when I think back to my youthful forays into rebellion, they came almost exclusively in the form of how I chose to dress. Looking back on my clothing choices now, they seem quaint, bordering on adorable. Wide-leg purple corduroys (yikes!), too-tight band t-shirts (they only came in one size!), armfuls of plastic jewelry, half a stick of black kohl round my eyes. The usual “I’m from a small town but I’m unique and have feelings, Mum!” uniform. But it was also my first attempt to stand out from the crowd in a way that I controlled myself as a young, visibly disabled woman in a society where inclusion and acceptance of difference is hard to come by. (more…)

RIP Stella Young

I have just learned of the death of disability activist, writer and comedian Stella Young. She was 32 years old.

I did not know Stella, but I am a huge fan of her writing. There was no-one like her in the world of disability activism. Her work was incisive, bold, usually hilarious, and often incredibly poignant.

I think a testament to her skill is that every time she published a new piece of work I thought to myself “This will be on the syllabus when I become a teacher”. Her writing was accessible, confrontational, and could cut straight to the point.

It’s late, and I am tired and devastated. I have no more deep, meaningful words to say, so let’s allow Stella’s words do the talking. It’s the least we can do for someone who has done so much for our community.

Below are links to two letters she wrote, one to her past self as a teenager, and one to herself as an eighty-year-old. As Andrew Pulrang says:

I want every high school age kid in a wheelchair, who uses crutches, or who is sure that their bodies are too weird and messed up to be loved, to read these letters before they graduate into adulthood.

Stella’s words went far (one example; last time I checked, a .gifset of her excellent TED talk had over 100,000 notes on Tumblr). Let’s ensure her legacy is that they are not forgotten.

Stella Young: A Letter To My Younger Self

Stella Young’s Letter To Herself At 80 Years Old


You can read more of Stella’s pieces here.