A review of the incredible life of Alice Wong
• 5 min read
Alice Wong is a writer and Chinese-American disability activist. She is also the founder and director of The Disability Visibility Project, a tight-knit online community that supports and promotes the disability media and culture. Her work is centered around ensuring people with disabilities get equal access and inclusivity regardless of their backgrounds.
Alice Wong was born in 1974 in Indianapolis after her parents emigrated to the United States from Hong Kong. She was born with spinal muscular atrophy, which causes the nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain to die progressively. Due to the progressive weakness of body muscles, Wong stopped walking at just eight years old. She now relies on a motorized wheelchair and an assistive ventilator machine.
Growing up, Wong faced many challenges as she felt that she stood out in undesirable ways among her peers. She was the only physically disabled student in her class and, on top of that, one of the few Asian-American learners. For that reason, she largely struggled with internalized racism and a strong urge to want to blend in with her peers.
Luckily, in her twenties, Wong drew away from that mentality, and instead of trying to fit in, she devoted her life to fighting for access and visibility on her own terms. Wong attended Indiana University in Indianapolis, where she explored disability history and scholarship. She learned about the independent living movement in Berkley, California. Also, she was exposed to the work of Paul Longmore, a disabled activist, and historian.
Following Longmore's advice, a San Francisco State University professor, Wong moved to the West Coast and enrolled in a graduate school where she earned a Master's Degree in Medical Sociology. As a graduate student, she chaired the Disability Interest Group, an organization that sought more participation with people with disabilities in all aspects of the University.
After graduation, Alice Wong worked as a Staff Research Associate at the University of California, San Francisco, for over ten years. At the time, her career in disability advocacy grew simultaneously. She participated in qualitative research projects and co-authored the digital curricula of USFC's Community Living Policy Center. Further, Wong extended her research to personal care services for those with disabilities in the larger community.
Wong served as Vice Chair of the UCSF Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Disability issues. Also, she served on the San Francisco In-Home Supportive Services Public Authority boards and Asian and Pacific Islanders with Disabilities of California. While in the position, Wong advocated for UCSF's professional schools to include a disability-related curriculum in their cultural competency courses.
Moreover, she spearheaded UCSF's Access- a website describing the accessible features of all significant campus buildings. While at it, Wong fought for other accommodations on Campus for students with disabilities. That included wheelchair-accessible buttons on the elevators and text telephones for deaf learners.
Later, in 2013, President Obama appointed Alice Wong to the National Council on Disability, where she served until 2015. This independent federal agency advises the US government on programs, practices, and policies that influence the quality of living for people with disabilities. In 2014, Alice Wong started the Disability Visibility Project. It all started as a partnership with Story Corps in the early days. It gave people with disabilities an opportunity to record their own oral histories.
Later, this grew into an online community that documents and amplifies disability media and culture. Growing up, Wong never felt represented in the popular culture as an Asian-American girl with a disability. She wanted to use the Disability Visibility Project to help others tell their stories without the media filtering things out. She hoped that would be empowering for the disabled community.
Besides that, Alice Wong has partnered with other disability access projects:
Disabledwritees.com- this is a website whose main aim is to connect editors with disabled writers and journalists
The #CripLit- although it's no longer active, it was a series of Twitter discussions with Nicola Griffith
The #CriptheVote- this is a non-partisan hashtag that has promoted political participation among people with disabilities
Access in Love- this campaign frames disabilities as an act of Love rather than a burden
On top of that, Wong is a board member of 18 million Rising. This advocacy group promoted civic engagement for Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans. Wong has published numerous writings on disability issued by multiple media outlets countrywide. Also, she has participated in editing two anthologies featuring essays by people with disabilities. She expects to publish her Year of the Tiger memoir in 2022.
Wong was named one of 16 notable people fighting for equality in America by Time in 2020. She was featured on the September cover of British Vogue under the theme "The Faces of Hope." Wong was named a Disability Futures Fellow by the Ford Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Wong has received several honors for her advocacy work, including:
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Award (2007)
The Chancellor's Disability Service Award (2011) from UCSF
The Beacon Award from the San Francisco Mayor's Disability Council (2010)
The Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award (2016) from the American Association of People with Disabilities for her work with the Disability Visibility Project
The Indiana University Bicentennial Medal (2020)
Wong's work as an activist and writer allows her to continue her intersectional advocacy for the disabled and Asian American communities.