For today's blog, Disability Positive Consulting is going all literary with a book review. The book in question is an autobiography by British comedian and actress Francesca Martinez, who happens to have cerebral palsy. The book, entitled "What the F*** is Normal?" was strongly recommended to me by my wife. After weeks of not finding the time, I finally hunkered down with the audiobook and listened in. I can confidently say that Ms. Martinez's book is the most disability positive piece of literature that I have ever had the pleasure of reading.
As an autobiography, it is pretty standard. It documents her life from zero to thirty something; her successes, her struggles and the wide array of people who have influenced her life. There are three things, however, that make this such an entertaining read. The first is that the author herself reads the audiobook. This in itself is not all that unremarkable, particularly in the world of autobiographical audiobooks. There is, however, something incredibly refreshing about a woman with a mild to moderate speech difference reciting the hilarious chapters and stories.. To me, the minor slurs and spastic vocal patterns added to the charm of the read.
The second aspect of it that really spoke to me in a big way was the blunt and often hilarious honesty with which Ms. Martinez spoke about disability. Frequently in media and literature, disability is glazed over or otherwise over-inspirationalized in order to not make the audience squirm uncomfortably. But the chapters in which she discusses coming to terms with her wobbly self (as she articulates it) are real and relatable. My level of cerebral palsy may be far different from hers, but I felt connected to many of her stories. Of course it doesn't hurt that I am a fan of biting British wit, but even if I wasn't, I would appreciate Ms. Martinez's straight up, no BS exploration of the disabled identity.
The final reason that I cannot stop thinking about this book is simple. It speaks to exactly why I started my business. It speaks to disability as an asset in her life. Yes, she has struggles and frustrations but she also takes great advantages from her life because of her physical difference. She got her big break into television, a British teen high school drama called “Grange Hill” because they were looking for someone to add a disability diversity angle to the cast. In later life, her disability informed much of her comedy and gave her a unique perspective whilst breaking into the business. She talks at length about coming to terms with this process and about finally being able to take pride in her identity. She articulates, punctuated by perfect comedic timing and tongue-in-cheek remarks, many of the core values that I hold in my business. During the course of listening to this book, I was not only given a renewed sense of purpose in my business but felt somewhat validated by the narratives that Ms. Martinez built.
So if you like hilarious British comedy, read this book or listen to the audio. If you believe in celebrating disability and difference, do the same. If you want is truly disability positive experience, I cannot recommend this one strongly enough!