As a film critic, a contributor to RogerEbert.com and a disabled person, I was saddened to learn last night of the death of Jeff Shannon, who was all these things too. But Jeff was more than just a disabled person: he was a disabled activist. He served on the Washington State Governor's Committee on Disability Issues and Employment and wrote widely about the challenges of a life forever altered by a catastrophic accident that left him quadriplegic.
He was a columnist for FacingDisability.com, a site devoted to surviving spinal chord injury founded by former Siskel and Ebert producer Thea Flaum, and he discussed topics from the philosophical ("Happiness is a Choice") to the practical ("Manual to Motorized: When It's Time to Change Wheelchairs"). Like Roger Ebert, he faced all that disability imposed on him and wrote about it clearly, honestly and without evasion.
Disabled writers, like writers from any minority under-represented in the media, are often torn. Should we write exclusively about our disability (or our race or religion or sexuality) because the issues around it are so little understood and so inadequately analyzed? Or should we devote our careers to writing about mainstream subjects, such as the movies, because the conversations around them so often lack our input?
Again like Roger, Jeff demonstrated the importance of doing both, of ensuring disability is discussed with the insight and frank detail that only a disabled person can provide, while simultaneously ensuring that the most eloquent voices in the disabled community are heard far outside it. His writing remains a bridge between those who live with disability daily and those who seek to understand it.