Laura Hershey: Writer, Poet, Activist, Consultant Rotating Header Image

Oral History and Disability Rights

Storytelling and reflection have been at the heart of most of my writing. During the last couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity to explore a field that’s all about recording people’s experiences and memories — oral history. I volunteer as an interviewer for the Regional Oral History Office (ROHO), at the University of California. I’ve conducted in-depth interviews with four dynamic disability rights activists, two women and two men, all brilliant organizers and thinkers.

Transcripts of two of those interviews have just been posted online, as part of ROHO’s Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement collection.

Alana Theriault is one of the most knowledgeable people I know when it comes to Social Security and Medicaid benefits, employment options, and personal assistance programs. She has helped numerous Californians navigate through these mind-bogglingly complex systems. She has also helped to formulate policy, always advocating for more fair and flexible regulations. Alana gained all this knowledge by necessity. As a teenager, lacking adequate support services at home, she went to live in a nursing facility. Determined to achieve independence, she fought for the resources she needed, and found a supportive disability community. Since then, she has lived a self-determined life, and helped others to do the same.

John Kelly combines scholarship and advocacy in creative, provocative ways. Through writing, teaching, and activism, he challenges our culture’s deep investment in the concept of “ability,” and how that leads to discriminatory attitudes and practices affecting disabled people. Since his injury as a young man, John has questioned why disability, a perfectly natural phenomenon, causes such fear and loathing in our society.

I’m proud of my work on these interviews. I’m also really impressed with the important contribution that ROHO is making to documenting the ongoing movement for the rights of people with disabilities.

To read the interviews with Alana Theriault and John Kelly, follow this link and then click on the name.

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