15:32 PM

UHCL's Common Reader selection focuses on disability awareness

Written by: Cynthia Anaya

As an extension of the First-Year Seminar Program, University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Common Reader Program recently announced its new book for the 2023/2024 school year. The latest selection, “Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century,” features a compilation of the diverse experiences of 37 disabled activists and writers. Clinical Associate Professor of First-Year Seminar, Humanities, and Women’s and Gender Studies Anne Gessler hopes the book will meet a specific need in the community.

“For the past 10 years, The Common Reader Program Committee has selected books that address many complicated civic debates,” she said. “While related programming has consistently included aspects of disability in conversation with the common reader, we felt that the program needed to more fully contribute to disability awareness on campus by selecting a First-Year Seminar Program book that explicitly discusses the current disability studies landscape.” 

The editor of this year’s book, Alice Wong, is a disabled writer, editor, media maker, disability rights activist, and consultant. Born with spinal muscular atrophy, Wong lost her ability to walk when she was about 7 years old. She founded the Disability Visibility Project as an online community in 2014, in partnership with StoryCorps to give people with disabilities a platform to share their stories.

Gessler commented on the impact that Wong’s work has had on both individuals with disabilities and those without. “With her project, podcast, and book series, Alice Wong is doing exciting work promoting the wide variety of Americans' experiences with disabilities, highlighting first-person perspectives from ordinary people who have long been neglected in popular media and scholarship, from women of color with chronic illness, to representatives of the self-advocacy movement with cognitive disabilities,” she said.

The objectives of the Common Reader Program include strengthening the academic community, creating opportunities for intellectual engagement, encouraging in-depth learning, and establishing a stimulating environment. Aligning with these goals, Gessler wants readers to gain a new, meaningful perspective of what it’s like to be disabled, along with a better understanding of how society stigmatizes differences among people. She also emphasized the importance of being a campus that serves individuals with disabilities.

 “We hope attendees will reflect on the high stakes of fostering a campus community that is welcoming and accessible to all, the implications of ensuring attendees' own continued access to campus, as well as what they can do themselves to increase accessibility measures at UHCL,” she said. 

 As part of the program, various events are planned for the fall 2023 and spring 2024 semesters that center on the Common Reader book and theme. These include a VR program called “Notes on Blindness,” an event about processing trauma, and student short films.

The kick-off event for the program will be held on Wednesday, August 30, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Forest Room, located on the first floor of the Bayou Building. To learn more about the Common Reader Program, visit www.uhcl.edu/academics/first-year-seminar/common-reader.