Stories from the brainreels guest Alice Wong on good radio voices

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[The podcast audio is at the bottom of this post.]

I’m such a fan of storytelling and oral histories. Such. A. Fan. And for me, there’s no more engaging and exciting place to grab them than the project Alice Wong started called Disability Visibility Project. Check out their work at the recent Allied Media Conference. Because it’s not enough to collect the stories. They have to be accessible and in multiple formats (like transcribing your audio into text or how I audio record all of these blog posts). And how cool to be able to bring this to a conference that’s not necessarily disability specific, to continue to demonstrate how organizations working for social change and social justice, including racial and economic justice, have to include D/deaf and disabled communities. It’s still a somewhat novel concept in a lot of places. Thanks to the activists who are pushing the boundaries on this!

For this month’s podcast episode, Alice and I chat not just about bringing the figurative voices of disability into radio and podcasting more, but actual disabled voices. Voices where you can hear that the person isn’t non-disabled when they speak. It’s so exciting! Here’s a drawing by Mike Mort of Alice wearing the mask she wore during our interview over Skype and wears much of the time.

Sketch by Mike Mort of Alice Wong, an East Asian woman with chin-length hair, cropped over one ear. She wears purple-rimmed sunglasses, a Bi-pap breathing mask with tube over her nose, and bright red lipstick. In red all caps, "Respect the Mask"For a brief time, my voice disorder was so bad that I was getting advice from strangers or being asked to go away because my voice was so troublesome to behold. In that year or so, I got to taste the pain that is disability discrimination. And yes, my disabled comrades, yoga, meditation, and tea with honey were all suggested as ways to overcome my communication disorder. (Word to the wise, don’t put honey on your vocal cords, voice disorder or not!) Now and again, someone would enjoy writing notes with me, but I did certainly have someone up and leave a conversation in a crowded bar when my response to him asking my name was to smile, pull out a notepad, and hold up the “hang on a sec” finger so I could write my answer. Gone. Poof. Seriously? The thought of chatting with me like that was so horrific?

How can we get past issues of ignoring, shaming, pushing away, or trying to cure communication-related disabilities? Spend more time communicating with people who are disabled by society because they communicate in a way that’s not the most traditional. Broaden your horizons to be more accepting, welcoming, and curious. Celebrate communication styles. And by golly, start to ask yourself whether the ideas you have for what makes “good” communication or a “good” communicator are socially constructed and based on power imbalances or actually universal. (Hint: Probably socially constructed and based on power imbalances.)

Click this sentence for an accessible transcript of episode #061.