Many people shy away from having their photograph taken, for a plethora of reasons. Some don’t like their hair color or style. Others are afraid the camera will add pounds or inches to their waistline. Still others think the camera highlights physical imperfections.
A few months ago, when my new book was about to be released, I was tasked with selecting a photograph of myself to go along with it. This is the second time I’ve faced this particular task, and it presented me with the same challenge on both occasions. As someone with a disability, due to a car accident in 1988, I had to decide if I wanted the world to see me sitting in a wheelchair.
How do people, disabled or able-bodied, wish to be seen? After all, we live in a very visual world and society often judges people, rightly or wrongly, by their physical appearance. While my personal belief is that everyone has a disability, I admit that there are some pieces of adaptive equipment, like glasses and hearing aids, that seem to be more socially accepted. Wheelchairs, generally speaking, do not make that list.
A few years ago, while visiting a friend in Washington, D.C, I decided to check out the then-new FDR memorial. I’ve always been a fan of FDR. His policies strike a cord in my liberal-leaning sensibilities. So, I was thrilled to see him memorialized in such a grand manner. If you haven’t seen the memorial, I strongly urge you to do so.
However, while rolling through the structure, one post-unveiling addition to the original panels and statues disturbed me. While the sculptors and designers of the memorial chose not to depict the president sitting in a wheelchair, a group of disability advocates decided that it was important to show that side of him. I disagreed, and still do. President Roosevelt did not want to be seen as a person with a disability. He was never seen in public, or in earlier depictions, sitting in a wheelchair. In my opinion that one statue changed the message of the entire memorial.
Why do I mention the Roosevelt memorial? It is simply because people have a right to be seen in the manner in which they choose, and they have the right to have any depictions of them give the message they choose it to deliver. So, in choosing a photograph to go along with my books, I had to be mindful not only of my own self-image but also of the message I wanted my stories to convey. The protagonist in my Blind Traveler mystery series, Douglas Abledan, is a blind man. The way he deals with his disability is a key plot point in the stories. So, for me to hide my own disability by using a photograph without my wheelchair, seemed to convey the wrong message.
We, as authors, have always to be mindful of the messages we wish our readers to take away from our work. The simple act of adding a photograph to that work goes a long way toward delivering that message.
Robert Bennett, a former social worker turned writer, lives in the house he grew up in with his mother, one of his two brothers, two dogs that don’t get along, and a turtle. His lifelong focus has been a concern for the needs of society’s disenfranchised. His articles span a wide range of topics from sports to technology and from politics to social justice. His fiction is grounded in real world events and technologies as well as his own philosophical concerns. “It is the act of truly living and believing in yourself that is important, not the manner in which that action is undertaken.” Mr. Bennett has spoken to groups of physical therapy students, church members and senior citizens, and has appeared on several radio programs. Contact Mr. Bennett through his website at www.enablingwords.com
His latest book: The year is 2021. Natural forces have changed our world. As the Earth’s magnetic poles have shifted, pressure on the planet’s mantle layer is building. The bottom line . . . earthquakes now wreak havoc in areas they have never occurred before. In Mexico, members of an archaeological team investigate the remains of an ancient village uncovered by a quake; racing to prove their theories about the civilization that once lived there. But, disaster strikes when the accidental destruction of an artifact unleashes a worldwide agricultural plague. Halfway across the continent, Douglas Abledan, a blind computer technologist, embarks on a long anticipated vacation. On the plane to Chicago, he meets world-renowned agricultural pathologist Cara Cordelia. Little do either of them know she has been targeted for murder. In this stand-alone sequel to his critically acclaimed “Blind Traveler Down a Dark River,” author Robert P. Bennett continues to bring us suspense and intrigue while exploring a world of the not too distant future. While society struggles with the impact of natural changes, the advancement of new technology enables a blind man to investigate a murder.