Kris Schanilec and Rachel Faldet of Decorah, Iowa, have co-edited From My Perspective: Essays About Disability, a book authored by people affiliated with The Spectrum Network, an Iowa-based organization that helps people with disabilities with work and training, daily living tasks, and day activities. The book published last August.
“One of our 2009 goals was to promote awareness of issues related to people living with disabilities,” said 44-year-old Schanilec, who reads this column in the Waukon (Iowa) Standard. “Also, this book was a special project to celebrate The Spectrum Network’s thirty-fifth anniversary.”
With the help of Faldet, a Luther College creative writing instructor, and others who physically put pen to paper, people with disabilities using their own words were able to “write” their personal stories about living with a disability.
Said Schanilec, “Speaking for myself, (the book) has deepened my experience of understanding other people’s lives and obstacles encountered. When putting yourself in other people’s shoes, you really see the person rather than the disability.”
One woman with a disability wrote about her many roadblocks faced when having to negotiate with her support team the possibility of her marrying the man who would become her husband. One man discussed the anxiety and joy felt moving into an apartment on his own for the first time. The book also features several stories from staff members and parents of people with disabilities. Except for one mentioning epilepsy, not one writer mentioned their specific disability.
“And every story has a different angle,” said Schanilec. “One was written by a staff person talking about her experience in the human services field and then having a medical problem putting her in the hospital. She was on the other side of the coin.”
A public reading occurred last October at the Decorah Public Library to a packed house. “There was a lot of dignity in that room,” said Schanilec. “About eight authors read out loud. Reading their stories in print makes you think about their experience objectively, but hearing it read aloud in a public setting took it to another level.”
Their work has received “overwhelmingly positive” community feedback, she said. Many people read the book repeatedly before passing it on to friends.
Besides working with The Spectrum Network, Schanilec has other connections to disability. Her mother had mobility issues while having a brain tumor and a friend has bipolar disorder.