December Author Spotlight: Alice Wong
Updated: May 10
Learn more about the activist and author behind Year of the Tiger: An Activist's Life.
ID: To the left, an Asian-American woman sits in a wheelchair, wearing a tiger-striped brown sweater and bright red lipstick. She smiles, looking forward, and her portable ventilator is positioned on her neck. To the right, a yellow book cover which reads "Year of the Tiger: An Activist's Life," surrounded by a red tiger drawing and red flowers.
We have a lot to learn from Alice Wong. The writer and activist, born with spinal muscular atrophy, has been advocating for disability rights since her early twenties. While she has a lot to teach us about the realities of living with a disability in the United States and navigating institutional systems of care, Wong’s methods of activism are what prove to be her most powerful tools of enacting change. Her career in advocacy began long before 2014, but it was then that Wong launched the Disability Visibility Project. Disability Visibility is an online community where disability related media (rewrite) is documented and shared through a longtime partnership with StoryCorps. See the site for yourself at disabilityvisibilityproject.com, or check out Wong’s first published anthology, Disability Visibility: First Person Stories from the Twenty First Century!
In the Disability Visibility Project and adjoining book, Wong uses storytelling as a sustaining method of advocacy. The two have a long, intertwined history, as storytelling can be used to present one’s personal narrative in a manner which appeals to wider audiences. Lived experience is difficult to deny, and storytelling allows the real, personal impacts of legislation to be exposed. However, in the case of disabled writers and creatives, and a difficulty Wong states she experienced in her younger years, finding a platform through which these stories could be shared and a community which honored their intersectionality proved challenging. The Disability Visibility Project provides that exact platform, and that exact community has been born from it. The project’s online format also allows consistent accessibility, and encourages interaction and sharing between users. Providing a space and building a community which encourages creative expression empowers the individual, while demonstrating exactly why the changes Wong advocates for are necessary for the physical and mental wellness of disabled people. Wong’s championing of disability culture works to empower its participating individuals. In this way, her activism provides a twofold positive effect.
In Year of the Tiger, Wong presents a collection of the stories, essays, blog posts, and interviews specifically related to her personal narrative. She paints a comprehensive portrait of herself both in light of her activism, and outside of it. Wong’s intersectional approach to disability activism includes her own struggles with her Asian American identity. Aside from The Disability Visibility Project, Wong has been involved in numerous projects fighting for disability access, such as DisabledWriters.com, #CriptheVote, and Access is Love. DisabledWriters.com and #CriptheVote both take online formats, the first working to connect disabled writers and journalists with editors, and the second hashtag encourages political participation among disabled people. Access is Love takes a campaign based format, whose aim is to shift perspectives surrounding accessibility. Wong is also a board member of 18 Million Rising, a group which advocates for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. She has received much recognition for her writing, and many awards for her advocacy work, most notably, 2007’s Martin Luther King Jr. Award and 2016’s Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award from the American Association of People with Disabilities. Wong also served on President Obama’s National Council on Disability from 2013 to 2015, where she advised the U.S. government on issues and policies related to people with disabilities.
Stories, as we’ve learned through our many adventures as a book club, hold incredible powers of representation, persuasion, expression, and much, much more. We’ve seen how Karla Cornejo Villavincencio shared the stories of others in The Undocumented Americans, how Phuc Tran shared his own story in Sigh, Gone, and how stories provided a framework of knowledge for Robin Wall Kimmerer in Braiding Sweetgrass. All of these authors utilize storytelling as calls to action, and appeal to the reader in different ways. Through her writing and career, Wong is showing us another way for stories to be used– to enact change on an institutional level. By appealing to the emotional senses of the audience through personal narrative, storytelling has been able to cause real change in the fight for disability rights in the United States.
Cripping Narrative: Story Telling as Activism, Kim Collins, 2016