Early last month, there was an article on the front page of the Los Angeles Times about an author named Peter Winkler. Fine. I always enjoy seeing the arts and artists - and especially writers - get some attention. So much the better if it’s on the front page of the paper.
It was clear enough, however, that the reason why Winkler was featured on the front page isn’t so much that he is a fine writer. No, what was worthy of the front page was that, because of being disabled, he wrote his recently published biography of Dennis Hopper (“Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel”) by using a chopstick to type out one letter at a time. Not only that, but Winkler’s agent didn’t know of his rheumatoid arthritis and that he puts so much physical effort into his writing.
Indeed, the article is titled “Really sticking to it” and doesn’t just say that Winkler is disabled - he “increasingly is trapped,” “ravaged by arthritis,” which “has battered him for 48 of his 55 years.” That he doesn’t make this a big deal - he didn’t tell his agent of his disability and says that tapping one key at a time with a chopstick is “not so bad” (“He’s gotten pretty fast, and anyway, ‘I was always a two-finger typist.’”) - only makes it more of a big deal, suitable for the front page.
My first reaction when I read this story was: why doesn’t this guy use a word-prediction program like the one I use? I too type one key at a time, and I have been using this program (SoothSayer) for the last four or five years, and it has made writing - and my life - so much easier. Indeed, I wish I had it years, decades, ago!
Then I thought that if Winkler had such a tool, it would be less likely that there would be a big article about him on the front page. After all, there are thousands of disabled folks who use word prediction programs and other tools and not many (I hope) who use a chopstick to write. It also occurred to me that if Winkler really doesn’t consider his disability and his chopstick-typing a big deal, he wouldn’t have gone along with this article, which included photographs.
This situation - Winkler typing with a chopstick - is another example of how society makes life harder for the disabled, of how society disables people. Yes, there are many wonderful devices and technologies that make life easier for the disabled, but they are too often not easy to get.
What’s more, in a weird twist, as this article illustrates, this is used as a source of inspiration. And - trust me - being an inspiration is oh-so attractive.