Bryan Boyce doesn’t remember a time when he wasn’t around someone with a disability. His younger brother was born with one, and the countless hours the two spent together shaped his thinking about what it’s like to be a little different from most people.
The way Boyce talks about the disabled now, you’d think he’s saying they’re the lucky, gifted ones, exceptional in more ways than one—and it’s everyone else whose brain is a little boring.
Boyce is putting his money where his mouth is. The 32-year-old Waseca native runs Cow Tipping Press, a two-year-old Minneapolis publishing house that exclusively puts out books by people with disabilities.
There are challenges to overcome working with authors who may not have full use of their hands, or who have trouble making words come out the way people are used to hearing them. Boyce takes those challenges as an opportunity, and loves every moment.
The fact that someone’s brain works differently than yours doesn’t make them weird or embarrassing. It makes them creative. Some people “spend tens of thousands of dollars” to learn how to think differently than others. Some are born that way.
“It was always kind of fun learning what [my brother] could come up with, because it was different than anything you were hearing or reading,” says the former high school English teacher.
Growing up, Boyce knew he wanted to work with people like that. It might’ve meant being a special education teacher, or a personal care attendant, maybe a researcher. Instead, Boyce invented a niche industry. As far as he knows, Tipping Cow Press is the only publishing house of its kind in the country.
People with disabilities make up 1 to 2 percent of the United States population, roughly the same number as Native Americans or transgender people. Both those communities, small as they are, have earned a minor presence in media and publishing these days. Why shouldn’t people with disabilities?
The fiction, essays, and poetry aren’t all woe-is-me. The material is about their lives, which are bigger and richer than those unfamiliar with disability could probably imagine.
“I’d estimate 80 percent of their writing isn’t about having a disability,” Boyce says. “It’s not like you sit around all day thinking, ‘Oh, I have a disability.’ No, they have dreams, and aspirations, and experiences.”
He’s also using former students—writers with disabilities themselves—as co-teachers in classes that will produce a new crop of writers.
“Now it’s about who’s doing the serving, and who’s being served,” Boyce says. “It’s really fun and cool. And important.”
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