Voices from the Disability Community: Alana Theriault

Alana Theriault: artist, writer, cook, home-maker, benefits specialist and woman who knows her prepositions. Get to know her.

Getting to Know You

  1. Your name: Alana Theriault, some friends call me Al.
  1. What’s your connection with disability?

Disability has always been there presenting puzzles for me to solve, connecting me with people who solve their own puzzles in their own ways, and me helping others solve their own puzzles involving disability.

  1. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Star Trek – Always sci-fi above fantasy, but fantasy’s good, too.

  1. If you could live in any other country for 2 years, where would you go?

China…I would pick up where I left off with my study of Mandarin 25 years ago, and enjoy watching people (and watch people watching me) while eating different regional foods and seeking out other artists and people with disabilities. I’d have to apologize a lot for my poor grammar and American crassness.

  1. What dish would you bring to our community picnic potluck?

I’d probably bring two: Baked Macaroni & Cheese with Fresh Crab and a Spicy Tomato Chutney on the side, and a Vegetable Curry Pie with Homemade Crust.

Now That We’ve Been Introduced…

  1. What do you do:

I cook really good, healthy food. I go to work. I manage a fabulous team of people who help me care for my body and home. I comply with the government-imposed rules that make me eligible for the services I need to stay alive. This takes a lot of time.

At work, I teach other people with disabilities how to comply with the government-imposed rules that make them eligible for the services that they need to stay alive. Yes, I’m cynical and resentful about this ironically inhumane cat-and-mouse game; I also do the work with defiant enthusiasm and great passion for serving people with disabilities well.

"Girls", by Alana Theriault - image is of a pencil drawing made of small dots. It is a circle of feet, as if the feet were of a circle of wheelchair users
“Girls”, by Alana Theriault – image is of a pencil drawing made of small dots. It is a circle of feet, both standing and sitting

I keep house and spend too much time on Facebook. I draw medium-sized pictures with tiny little dots, often while listening to an audiobook or watching reruns of Law & Order. I drink tea with friends, and try to be there for the people I love. Sometimes I write. More often I help friends with their disability benefits questions, and I sometimes volunteer these services in on-line communities. I watch science fiction and eat at good restaurants with the love of my life, Chuck, and together we are amused by the antics of our cats. I garden and then cook some more.

  1. How did you come to doing what you do? How has your career trajectory flowed?

I cut my teeth volunteering at the Center for Independent Living in the early 80s with Pamela Walker in Personal Assistance Services and Sandy Stone in Blind Services. Simultaneously, I dove into the Cooperative Movement by starting at a little co-op food store on the UC Berkeley campus. There I learned how to cook burdock root and do double-entry bookkeeping with a pencil.

Since then, co-ops and disability advocacy have been woven into my life. I’m passionate about small urban homestead food networking among friends as much as I am about tweaking or crafting state and federal policy, though, now that I’m semi-retired I take much smaller bites of any given project.

  1. Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?

Pretty much here, doing what I’m doing. I’d like to be less distracted and more able to follow through on creative projects.

  1. Not to be morbid, but what do you want people to remember about you when you’ve gone?  

I want people to remember how I problem-solve and dive into the things I’m curious about. I want them to know that when I was writing the previous sentence I debated about whether or not to end it with a preposition, and that at age 49 I’m learning to let go of the little stuff, but it’s hard. In remembering me, I hope they follow their own curiosity and use Google and libraries and try to do new things.

  1. Who or what inspires you?

I am inspired by people’s passions and creativity, and admire when folk work hard to reach their goal. I am especially impressed by people who pause before taking action, and then act deliberately and with kindness. I’m always learning from them.

About Disability

  1. If you could say something to yourself in the past – that is, the you that was really struggling with something related to disability – what would you say?

Be kind to yourself. You will eventually like yourself. Don’t try to be and do everything, and remember that getting angry isn’t a bad thing.

  1. What do you like about your particular disability?

I like that it’s been gradual, giving me time to solve the new puzzles it presents, and time to mourn the things I can no longer do.

  1. Any one thing that you wish people would *get* about disability?

I wish people would stop thinking of disability as something special, but instead as simply being a place on the continuum of being human. It’s an inevitability for most. We are not heroic or courageous because we simply go about our lives, and when people put us on such a pedestal it makes us “other” when we are truly just part of the bigger “us”.

  1. What single piece of technology makes your life easier?

My computer.

and…

  • Where else can we find you online?

Alana TheriaultFor prints or cards of my drawings, people can got to: www.alanadesigns.com or e-mail me at: info@alanadesigns.

To chat, introduce yourself via e-mail or Facebook (don’t just send me a “friend request”…Message me, say Hi!).