Interview: Daniel J. Vance, writer of the weekly column “Disabilities”


Christine from had the pleasure of interviewing Daniel J. Vance, writer of the weekly column “Disabilities”.
I had the chance to first talk with Daniel when he interviewed me in March of 2006 for his column. Since this year celebrates his fifth year of writing the column, I figured we would help him celebrate by getting to know him better.

BYDLS) For those who are not familiar with your writing, please tell us a little bit about your column called “Disabilities“.
ANSWER: The column began in mid-September 2002. Seven newspapers in Minnesota and Iowa tried the column that first week and four of those still publish it. The column doesn’t discuss or feature disability, but features people with disabilities, showing that people with disabilities are real people.
BYDLS)What made you decide to write about people with disabilities?
ANSWER: Several things. In my immediate family I had an aunt and grandfather with Alzheimer’s disease, a grandmother with severe scoliosis, and a legally blind grandmother with osteoarthritis. My daughter was born with spina bifida, and I’ve had a traumatic brain injury and from it post-traumatic stress disorder. So I’ve been steeped in disability. Finally, I was moved in 2002 to begin writing the column after attending a Joni and Friends Family Retreat, which serves families affected by disability. I realized there that many people with disabilities are misunderstood and I wanted to tell their stories.
BYDLS)I noticed that many of your columns try to focus on positive stories with about people with disabilities. In a time when many mass media outlets focus on “dramatic” or sad stories, why do you feel it is important to show a positive side?
ANSWER: One reason people with disabilities are so misunderstood is because the mass media tend to portray them as either angry victims or superheroes. In other words, they have made people with disabilities out to be unapproachable.
BYDLS) Your weekly newspaper column Disabilities has been published in more than 220 newspapers. Was it hard to get newspapers to carry your column?
ANSWER: The column has always been sent free to newspapers. It’s easier to take something when it’s free. I have two corporate sponsors (one anonymous) that compensate me for writing. What has been difficult at times is getting an editor to run more than one column. They sometimes find a particular column that speaks to a situation a friend of theirs is going through and then they never run another. It’s as if they’ve done their favor to their friend. But what these editors often don’t realize is that there are thousands of people just like their friend, except they have other disabilities. Other people besides their friend could benefit from the column.
BYDLS)Many times your column is about a disease or disability that I have never heard of before. How do you find the people or topics you choose to write about?
ANSWER: I receive email from readers. I read a lot on the Internet. My wife has an incredible network. I meet people on the street. You don’t have to go very far to find disability.
BYDLS) Besides writing your column, do you write about any other topics or for any other media?
ANSWER: I write Disabilities only one day a week. I’m also the editor of Connect Business Magazine, I write books for people and corporations, and soon should also be doing some editing for a book publisher.
BYDLS)What hobbies do you have? What do you and your family do in your spare time?
ANSWER: We like walking around our rural town of 400. My son and I enjoy fishing Ida Lake. Both our children play in youth baseball programs. Abigail, who uses a wheelchair, plays in the Miracle League in Mankato, Minn. We enjoy friends at church and church activities, especially ones for the kids.
BYDLS)I see on your website that you home school your children, for those who may not know what home schooling is, please tell our readers what it is and why your family has chosen to home school.
ANSWER: The U.S. has about two million home schooled children. We chose to home school for many reasons. For one, we have more freedom to tailor our children’s curriculum to match their strengths. In public school, if a curriculum doesn’t work, the teacher is stuck with it the entire school year. If a curriculum doesn’t work with our two children, we can chuck it and buy another right away. Second, we believe in the “classical” style of education, so our 11- and 12-year old children especially learn logic, English, writing, they read literature classics, and are in their third year or so of Latin. They are progressing along well. Third, by home schooling we can include our faith with the curriculum. You can’t do that in public school. We have a Christian faith and honestly try living out that faith every day. Fourth, in public school, children who test high and low tend to be ignored. The high achievers become bored having to wait for everyone to catch up and low achievers miss out when the class moves on to another topic. That doesn’t happen at home. Our children move at their own pace, which can be fast or slow given the material — fast if they “get” it right away; slow if they don’t.
BYDLS)If you were to encourage others who are interested in writing as a career, what advice would you give?
ANSWER: Many people are in love with the idea of being a writer and have no clue what a writer does all day. I advise people seriously considering writing as a career to take five days out of their lives and write for eight hours a day all five days. If at the end of those 40 hours they feel energized, then writing is for them.
BYDLS) So many people (especially those with disabilities) have found the internet to be a place not only for information, but for socialization as well. The popularity of “blogging” is amazing. Many people find it therapeutic to keep an online journal. Do you have a blog? Many people find it intimidating to write. For those who want to start writing for pleasure i.e. blogs, or even just a plain old notebook, do you have any advice for getting started?
ANSWER: Yes, I have a blog. My advice would be to keep each entry short and to the point, only showcasing one idea each time.
BYDLS) Thank you for your time Daniel.
Article written by Christine Miserandino, © 2007