Independence Care System (ICS) member Alejandra Ospina narrated the audiobook version of Disability Visibility, a new book edited by disability rights advocate and writer/editor Alice Wong that features a collection of personal essays by contemporary disability writers.
Alejandra, a first-generation native New Yorker and full-time wheelchair user whose roots stem from Colombia, has been active in many advocacy and performance projects online, and works as a media access provider creating closed captions and audio descriptions. Alejandra has collaborated as a vocalist, dancer, actor, and/or accessibility provider with organizations such as Heidi Latsky Dance, HiGlass Entertainment, Infinity Dance Theater, Kinetic Light ZCO/Dance Project, and the Queens Theatre.
ICS spoke with Alejandra about narrating Disability Visibility, the importance of the book and her positive experiences with ICS.
How did the opportunity for narrating the Disability Visibility audiobook present itself?
Alice Wong has been collecting and showcasing stories of the disability community around the country. We’ve connected before through disability stories, arts and culture. Alice knew I had history with voice work and audio description.I’ve been doing that for five years, primarily for live events relating to disability, arts, culture, and dance.
Alice wanted the narrator to be someone with a disability. She advocated on my behalf with the publisher. I didn’t become attached to the project until May. Alice handled the introduction, and I narrated the rest of the book.
How was the recording process?
This is my first professional foray into audiobooks. I had to get a home studio in my apartment. I had to read some samples to make sure my sound quality and equipment was good enough. We recorded the bulk of the 35 essays in less than a week. It was intense. This was a high level job, and I worked with a producer on Zoom.
Alice has become well known for her writing on disability and living in the community. What was it like interacting with Alice?
I had the good fortune to meet Alice once in California in October 2017. Alice is always so kind, and enthusiastic about promoting other books on disability and giving opportunities to people. We work really well together. I wouldn’t have had this opportunity without her. I’m working on some other recording material that Alice is making available soon.
Why is Disability Visibility important?
I think the book is incredibly important and I felt incredibly honored to do the voice work. I have a personal connection with several of the authors whose work appears in the book.I’m very connected to disability culture. I grew up disabled in New York.
It’s not always an easy read. It’s not disability 101. It’s writing that features different, unfair, unpleasant experiences about life and disability. But it also features great things about the beauty of disability as an identity, and disability rights and justice.
You are a Renaissance woman – you’re a narrator/audio describer, a dancer, and singer. You are a Spanish language interpreter, you have worked in technology. What’s your experience been like? How important is it that people acknowledge and realize that people with physical disabilities can be active, engaged and contribute to society?
I think it’s incredibly important. Even though we live in the U.S., we live in a society that doesn’t make it easy for people with disabilities to pursue competitive employment and salaries. I’m trying to make enough money to stay afloat without being penalized by the government and ending up in a nursing home.
I hope to have more work like this to remind everyone that people with disabilities can pursue careers. There are so many of us with talents. Society should be more supportive. I’m glad I’m a disabled person with a job.
How has ICS made a difference in your life?
I’ve been an ICS member since 2002. ICS has been an important part of my independent living as an adult. Without ICS, I would have had a harder time accessing personal care that’s self-directed.
ICS helped me get my first power chair. With On A Roll, I’ve always been able to reach out and get top notch care with wheelchair repairs and maintenance. I’m pretty particular about the specifications I like and need for my chair. ICS, Jean Minkel and all the folks who work with Jean have always been there for me.
What would you say to someone who asked if they should read Disability Visibility?
It isn’t going to represent every person with a disability, but it’s a varied cross section.
If they are someone who has a disability, they will get a better understanding of the paths that have brought us here in the 30 years since the ADA took effect. There’s a lot to take pride in. People are not aware of disability rights, justice, and culture. We’re trying to live lives and it takes energy for disabled folks. For those without disability, they will come to understand that we’re an incredibly large population that you can join at any time. They will learn a lot about the legitimacy of disabled lives. We have an American disability history many may not know about.
Alejandra will be starring in a lead role in Emily Driver’s Great Race Through Time and Space! on Zoom on July 29. The production is hosted by Queens Theatre and The Museum, Arts & Culture Access Consortium. Learn more here.
Learn more about Alejandra’s work here.
Purchase Disability Visibility here. Read “ADA30InColor,” a series of original essays on the past, present, and future of disability rights, published and edited by Alice Wong and narrated by Alejandra here.