Disability commission forms accessible writing project

ASUW Disability Comission Director Zoe Handler and Hel Gebreamlak, assistant programmer of the Q Center, are currently working on creating a writing group called Writing Resistance. The two met at the Q Center, but hope to extend the project beyond the scope of the UW. 

Photo by Alisa Reznick

For those who are oppressed and silenced, writing becomes a tool of power.

This philosophy is the foundation of Writing Resistance, a Seattle-based writing and art project for sick and disabled individuals. ASUW Student Disability Commission Director Zoe Handler and Q Center program assistant Hel Gebreamlak organized the project.

Gebreamlak and Handler aimed to create a space where people from the disability community could talk about their experiences with ableism, or discrimination against people with disabilities.

“Ableism [concerns] a lot of things, and there’s not really a space for people to talk about that or to really reflect on that, so I think that’s really where our project came from,” Handler said.

So far, Handler and Gebreamlak are planning writing circles for people in the disability community and creating a submission-based zine. They have also considered planning a performance showcase or playing with other forms of art in the future. But for now, they plan their projects based on what the community wants it to be.

“[The zine] is not necessarily going to be like who’s written the most well-worded piece or whatever, but it’s going to be more so people can talk about their experience with disability and ableism,” Handler said. “We just want to make sure that the people who are in it are the voices that, even within the disability community, don’t really get heard a lot.”

The zines will be available online in order to connect a larger community network and provide greater accessibility to individuals who might not be able to attend physically.

Gebreamlak said that for a long time the concentration around disability has been centered on a medical idea of problems with the body. However, Gebreamlak said the problem is actually the way people are taught to think about their bodies, and how others see their bodies. This mindset then creates oppression for sick and disabled individuals.

“It’s nice when you get these intentional spaces where you can be like, ‘Yeah, the world is really messed up to me, and people have been telling me my entire life to hate my body, but why are they doing this?’ and ‘Why is this happening?’” Gebreamlak said. “It’s nice to just be like, ‘No that’s not right, and I get to be bitter about it.’”

Lee Steadman, program and financial coordinator for the D Center, considers Writing Resistance a way to not only allow marginalized individuals to express themselves, but also build a community.

“[This project] focuses and centers the experience of people with multiple-marginal realities and experiences,” Steadman said. “I think it will provide an opportunity for people who are very marginalized to be around others like them and create a space and a community and empowerment.”

Gebreamlak and Handler also plan to host writing circles on a bimonthly basis in various neighborhoods. They also plan to collaborate with the Q Center or the D Center. Their first writing circle will be held Feb. 2 at the Beacon Hill Public Library.

“It was really important for us to start in a neighborhood like Beacon Hill and kind of be at the north end of Seattle, and be in a neighborhood that is predominantly a people-of-color neighborhood,” Gebreamlak said.

So far, 15 people have responded to the event, with 12 of them confirming their attendance.

“People are learning about it in the community; word has spread quickly,” Steadman said. “The impression that I got from people is that they’re very excited that the project is happening, and have been waiting for something like this for quite a while.”

Steadman said a lot of members in the disability community might feel isolated or left out of community events due to inaccessibility, therefore an accessible project such as Writing Resistance provides a space for individuals to express themselves.

“I think writing is a very powerful medium for many people who have been oppressed and silenced, and I think it will give us an opportunity to share our experiences and therefore be more empowered, feel more empowered,” Steadman said.

Reach reporter Imana Gunawan at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @imanafg

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