As a person with disability and a student pursuing a Disability Studies minor, I have read a lot of literature on disability. While there are many great books on disability, my favorite is Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity.
A friend of mine recommended this book to me just before my sophomore year at UCLA began. At first, I was overwhelmed by the size of the book, as it is over 700 pages long. In fact, it took me most of my sophomore year to finish the book! Ever since finishing the book, however, I have been fervently recommending this book to many of my friends.
In this book, Andrew Solomon explores how horizontal identity affects the relationship between parents and children. By “horizontal identity,” Andrew Solomon means “an inherent or acquired trait that is foreign to his or her parents” due to a variety of reasons, which may include “recessive genes, random mutations, prenatal influences, or values and preferences that a child does not share with his progenitors” (p. 2). Examples may include sexual orientation, gender preference, and ability status. More specifically, Andrew Solomon focuses on deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, severe disability, musical prodigies, children conceived by rape, criminals, and transgender individuals in the book. Each of these topics represents horizontal identity; parents and children inevitably experience the world differently because of these physical and/or psychological differences.
The book is based on Andrew Solomon’s interviews with more than 300 families, but also includes Solomon’s own story of becoming a father. Each story featured in the book is genuine. Solomon did not shy away from including raw, challenging, and, at times, tragic reality of living with what the society considers abnormal conditions. Solomon was also careful to not exaggerate positive aspects, and he successfully avoided inspiration porn. Each story and commentary is insightful and unique in its own ways. However, all of the stories are also tied together by a common thread: a desire to embrace differences, express love, and exercise hope.
Overall, Andrew Solomon sends a message that what the society may see as deviant does not get in the way of living a fulfilling, meaningful life. He also contends that the concept of disability is fluid rather than fixed. Furthermore, it could embody strength. He eloquently writes, “We are all differently abled from one another, and context – which is socially constructed – often decides what will be protected and indulged” (p. 33).
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Despite the ongoing effort to raise awareness and bridge the gap between those who are viewed as disabled and non-disabled, people with disabilities are continually marginalized in many ways. Reading Far From the Tree (even just one of the chapters!) would be a great way to expand your understanding on disability and think about how physical and psychological differences can be valuable aspects of diversity in our society rather than deficits to be stigmatized.
Miso Kwak is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Psychology with a double minor in Disability Studies and Education Studies. In addition to blogging for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, she plays the flute with the UCLA Woodwind Chamber Ensemble. Outside of school, she works as a mentor for high school students through Accessible Science, a nonprofit organization that facilitates science camp for blind youth.