Disability Zines Educate, Agitate & Enable Change

By Alana Kumbier

Zines can illuminate aspects of living with particular impairments and conditions and represent diverse experiences of disability and chronic illness. Disability zines, which often combine instruction (basic information about a condition) and personal narrative, help readers recognize how experiences of illness and impairment vary greatly from person to person, and they represent a range of emotional responses to conditions. These zines also make the social dimension of disability clear‚ by drawing attention to the ways in which impaired and chronically ill people are disabled by systems, structures, and practices that don’t take physical variation into account. There are moments of celebration, pride, and fierce resistance in these zines, too, making them compelling reads for disabled and enabled folks alike.

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Hawley, Erin. Driving Blind #4. 2010. 55p. ¼ size. $2.44. Distro: Things You Say
Erin brings sweetness and a sense of humor to her accounts of living with muscular dystrophy, scoliosis, and a tracheotomy. In one of the introductory pieces in this issue, Erin notes, “I don’t think about what I can’t do‚ it’s second nature. People’s attitude towards my disability is where I have a problem.” In a number of ways, the contents of this zine prove wrong the naysayers (the folks who think disabled people can’t or shouldn’t work jobs, go to school, be in long-term relationships, or get married), as Erin relates the saga of getting and working a data-entry job at the Monmouth County Clerk’s Office and navigating her neighborhood with her fiancé. She describes the frustrations of encountering inaccessible or limiting environments while also noting the pleasures of making new discoveries while exploring familiar neighborhoods. Erin’s accounts attend to the relational nature of disability; specifically, she suggests how her interactions with nurses, employers, coworkers, public transit operators, and her parents can be enabling or disabling.

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Maggie. Fuck You I’m Dyslexic. 43p. ¬Ω size. $1. Distros: free download from zinelibrary.info | Wild Nettle
Maggie makes no apologies for her dyslexia, returning‚ and resisting‚ the scrutinous gaze of ableist readers. The zine is handwritten and unedited, making some of the effects of Maggie’s dyslexia visible to readers. It’s a compelling strategy that makes us aware of our own corrective tendencies and our ability to comprehend “nonstandard” spelling and experience whatever discomfort we might have‚ to question why that discomfort exists and realize its implications. The zine features stories about her experiences‚ positive and negative‚ in educational contexts, accounts of what it was like before she was diagnosed, critiques of the common practice of correcting others’ spelling in social situations, agitating against ableist uses of terms like retarded and lame in everyday speech, and recognizing the ways disability experiences differ based on one’s economic and social situation (largely in terms of access to education and diagnosis).

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Robinson, Martina Dianne. Set on Freedom. Vol. 1: Disability Poems. 2007. 20p. Full size. $2 download/$12.63 print from Lulu
Robinson serves as a witness for disabled people, past and present. Her poems move between registers: reflecting on her own and other disabled people’s experiences; calling attention to the identities and stories of those who have been persecuted, oppressed, or killed because of disability; and celebrating the work of activists engaged in collective action for disability justice. Robinson’s poems make clear the lineage between previous and current civil rights struggles and honor those who give us a rich inheritance through their examples.

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Sailor, Jami. Your Secretary #5: The Truth About Your Secretary. 2010. 24p. ¼ size. Distros: Stranger Danger | Sweet Candy
This issue of Your Secretary is dedicated to Sailor’s stories about being a teenage and adult type 1 diabetic. She writes with candor about how it feels to experience low and high blood sugars, why she chose not to “control” her diabetes for a number of years, and how diabetes has affected her relationships. This issue also has some activist aims: Sailor addresses the common myth that diabetics are somehow responsible for their condition (i.e., that because you ate junk food you are now sick) and warns against judging her food choices. The issue has its lighter moments, too, when Sailor recounts diabetes camp ghost stories and enumerates the ways fellow campers exposed her to great new things (like queerness, the Smiths, and kiwi fruit).

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Thompson, Jerianne. Worry Stone. No. 1. 2008. 28p. ¼ size. $1. Distros: mail order (P.O. Box 330156, Murfreesboro, TN 37133) | Etsy
Jerianne writes about her experiences with her partner, Denny, who is a type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetic. The zine represents Jerianne’s attempt to articulate and calm some of the anxieties that accompany life with a diabetic partner, and much of the issue focuses on the hardships she and Denny face and the ways they negotiate them, together and independently, on a daily basis. In addition to addressing the everyday challenges of diabetes management, Jerianne explores the socioeconomic and emotional dimensions of living with diabetes and its complications. Navigating bureaucracies to access Social Security and Medicare benefits, discussing diabetes with their three-year-old son, and living with the specter of her partner’s mortality are all part of the life she documents.

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Two By Four Boy. Nothing About Us Without Us. 2007. 36p. Free download from the Queer Zine Archive Project
The subtitle of this zine, “One Queer Fat Gimp Response to Ableism & Fatphobia in Queer Communities,” makes clear its purpose‚ to challenge queer and trans communities to recognize ableism when and where it manifests within radical queer/trans spaces and to make events truly accessible to queers/trans folks of all abilities. Two By Four Boy articulates and channels anger, frustration, and disappointment around the ableism that underpinned 2007’s Queeruption, an annual “radical, free, DIY queer gathering” that took place in Vancouver. The zine’s relevance extends beyond a specific event or community, however. Though Two By Four Boy calls on enabled queers to learn about ableism and access for themselves (and not call on disabled community members to do all the educating), the zine also functions as a guide for thinking about inclusion and accessibility from the start of any event-planning and community-building activity.

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Author Information
Alana Kumbier is a Research and Instruction Librarian at Wellesley College. She is also a zine maker, amateur letterpress printer, and co-organizer of the Boston Radical Reference Collective.

Jenna Freedman, who coordinates and edits this column, is Research and Zine Librarian at Barnard College Library, New York. She is also a librarian zinester (Lower East Side Librarian, among others)

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