Since 2015, disability advocate and educator Rebekah Taussig has documented what it’s like to live in what she calls her “impaired body” on the Instagram account that shares a name with her forthcoming book, Sitting Pretty (HarperOne, Aug.). Taussig spoke with PW about her evolving sense of place in the world and the uncomfortable truth behind being nice.
What were the essential things you wanted to communicate with this book?
I’ve been disabled since I was three years old. It’s always been a part of my life, but there was a big transformation in how I understood disability, both personally and in the larger world. I wanted to try to recreate that transformation for readers. In my 20s—through education and getting to know the disabled community—
it felt like I was able to put on an entirely new lens through which I see the world around me. I’m hoping that a reader finishes the book with at least the beginnings of a similar transformation, where they are able to think about bodies differently.
What was the hardest part of the book for you to write?
Emotionally, I felt uncomfortable writing about my experiences teaching [disability studies]. It was really very wounding. I’d just gone through this personal transformation, and I wanted to share what I thought was this awesome material that changed my life. But this group of high school students was telling me the world wasn’t ready for it. It made me question a lot of what I thought I knew. Intellectually, the chapter about womanhood and disability was difficult. The intersection of those identities is something I still need to explore; it’s a place where I’m still growing.
Why do you think conversations on inclusivity and diversity often omit disability?
Collectively, we feel like we figured disability out, like we’ve got that one covered. We know that these are people we need to care about and be kind to. Kindness has been deeply embedded in how we think about disability. That feels like a good thing, so there hasn’t been a tremendous amount of curiosity to rethink or explore beyond that. Another facet is that people have these small flashes of disability—like they break their leg—and it makes them feel like they get it. Their main takeaway is “having a disabled body is really hard.” But this experience barely scratches the surface of what disability is, and happens without any critical thinking about bodies and environments.
What would moving beyond “just being kind” to the disabled look like?
It means looking at the disabled community as valuable, recognizing they have something to offer. It’s not just a group of people that need your help. Realize that they teach you something beyond just being grateful. The world is not built with disabled people in mind, so they have to come up with their own ways to engage with the world. Recognize that there is something powerful and unique in their perspective and seek that out.