One strategy for further exploring the role of identity in disability writings
might be to compare student interpretations of works under different
understandings of identity. For example, how would the student below have read
Johnson's work if she believed Johnson to be disabled? Is more or less
credibility given to those who have apparent disabilities vs. non-apparent
disabilities? How might length of lived disability experience affect the
perceived expertise of disability authors and speakers? How might association
with disabled people as clients vs. comrades and colleagues affect perceptions
of disability credibility?
A way to make this interesting could be to split the class into groups and
give each group different information about the disability identity of the
author of a particular reading. Then compare the conclusions reached by each
group in regards to the influence of the believed disability identity and
their perceptions of the author's credibility.
Thank you for sharing these very interesting discussions that are taking place
in your disability studies classes! I love these topics you are covering!
Graduate Assistant-Great Lakes ADA Center
Ph.D. Student-Disability Studies
University of Illinois at Chicago
>===== Original Message From Mark Sherry <[log in to unmask]> =====
>I am currently teaching two undergraduate disability courses at The
University of Toledo where the topic of discussion has sometimes been
Christopher Reeve. The results have been fascinating, and I would like to
share them with you.
>In one, a group of students did a research project on Reeve and also the
criticisms which Mary Johnson has made in her book, Make Them Go Away. This
discussion occurred two weeks before Reeve died. One of the disabled students
in my class argued that Reeve was the most famous disabled person alive, and
that she understood Johnson is a nondisabled person, and that this impacted on
the way she read Johnson's criticisms of Reeve. She felt that Reeve's lived,
embodied experience of impairment and disability gave him more credibility in
these debates than Johnson, who she understood was nondisabled. This was
bringing an issue associated with identity politics into the "cure" debate --
and that is something we have not discussed much so far on this list. She
added that she felt that Johnson's likening of Reeve to Clint Eastwood, who
has waged a pulblic battle against the ADA, was also unfair, given the support
which Reeve gave to a number of disability organisations that addresse!
> disability and impairment - such as the National Organization on Disability
and the Spinal Cord Injury Association. She also discussed the comments Reeve
made at a Democratic Convention about disability rights.
>Another student said that a rights movement such as the disability movement
can often experience a conflict between minority and majority rights. So for
instance, she likened a person who chooses to work as a "freak" and another
who chooses to abort a disabled fetus, as two individuals who might be
pursuing their own rights, even though they might conflict with the broader
rights of other disabled people. I wonder if this is a topic that often comes
up in other discussions about these issues?
>Another interesting thread of the discussion involved the
>What my class discussed was this - even accepting the social model as simply
a heuristic device - that a thorough discussion about either prevention or
cure cannot be conducted in the absence of a sociology of impairment as well
as a sociology of disablement. In this regard, they found a number of social
issues (such as war, poverty, domestic violence) where it seemed rather
unproblematic to them to argue for prevention of impairment... and of course,
disability scholars in general work for the prevention of disability.
>Another week, the class discussed the large numbers of D/deaf people who have
chosen to have cochlear implants as a problematic development in the "cure"
debate. In the US, national Deaf organisations originally regarded these
implants as a form of eugenics, but more and more Deaf people have come to
regard them as similar to a prosthetic, rather than a cure - or a "cure" that
did not take their D/deaf identity away. So they seemed to believe that issues
of identity were more complex than some of the discussions of "cure" might
have us believe.
>In these discussions, the students in my class seemed to find that the
rhetoric which sometimes pervades activist discussion of these issues rather
>Within a week of one of these classes, Reeve died, and I personally was
really disappointed that few American scholars expressed the sadness about his
passing that Tom Shakespeare did. Almost immediately, attention was diverted
to a discussion of the media representation of Reeve's death, rather than any
genuine empathy for the loss of a life. I was personally sad to hear that he
had died, but also sad that there seemed little empathy for Reeve as a human
>Another class I taught actually engaged with Tom Shakespeare's work - and
many students were incredibly impressed by his balanced and careful approach
to these issues. In fact, they probably related better to his work than many
other scholars they examined. He offers careful analysis, rather than
diatribes, and they were impressed by that. His work really did seem to
challenge them to move beyond the binaries. I wonder what other teachers have
experienced in their classrooms? Have your students had similar reactions?
What teaching techniques or strategies have you used to engage them in these
>Ability Center of Toledo Endowed Chair in Disability Studies
>University of Toledo
>University Hall, Room 2100
>Mail Stop 920
>Toledo, Ohio 43606-3390
>Phone: 419 530 7245 (w) 419 297 7026 (cell)
>Fax 419 530 7238
>email: [log in to unmask]
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