Life through the Eyes and Stories of Avis Gray
As a writer, Avis Gray realized her own story was more interesting than anything she could write fictionally. With this perspective, Avis wrote her first three books; Tales of Uncle Burt (2006), About Avis (2006) and The First Woman President (2007). But what sets Avis’ life apart from other writers is that she was born with Cerebral Palsy, and for most of her life people thought she couldn’t read, let alone write.
Born in 1938 as Shirley Avis Gray in Yuma, Arizona to parents who managed a hotel, Avis was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was seven months old. As there were no supports for children with disabilities in the school system during this time, she was educated at home until her family moved to San Diego where she attended Sunshine School from 1947 to 1954. She attended high school through correspondence classes and graduated in 1960. With the encouragement of her mother, Avis took several correspondence courses from U.C. Berkeley and a creative writing course from the Famous Writer’s School in Westport, Connecticut.
But as she grew older and her parents became too old to look after her, she was put in a convalescent home for the majority of her adult life. Because her Cerebral Palsy made communication very difficult, people assumed she was illiterate; incapable of reading, writing or having any high-functioning cognitive abilities.
When Avis came to Ability Now in 2002 after the convalescent home closed, our Computer Learning Center gave her opportunity to tell her story through an adaptive communication device designed for her. Working concurrently in our Small Business Center (SBC) and one-on-one with Andre Le Mont Wilson, the SBC Lead Instructor, Avis was able to write, self-publish, and sell her three books online through Café Press. Her short story, El Dorado Days, (read it here) was recently published Wordgathering, an online journal of disability-related poetry. In addition, Avis also wrote an educational pamphlet for people who work with the disabled titled Talk to Me!, which is used in trainings, seminars, and workshops. Avis is currently writing new stories to publish in a collection which will include her three previous books.
It is hard to believe that a woman with this much wit, humor and intelligence was once considered to be an illiterate mute. But with Ability Now’s computer learning center and small business center’s assistance, Avis is able to tell the world about life through her eyes and her stories.