THE OTHERS: A CASE STUDY IN TALKING ABOUT IDENTITY AND DISABILITY IN CREATIVE WRITING CLASSES

By: Jen Lamb

            The article Writing, Identity, and the Other: Dare We Do Disability Studies?, by Linda Ware, examines a case study in a writing class focusing on issues of individual difference and disability.  Ware argues that though many people believe that people with disabilities have already won their rights, that is far from the case (p. 397).  She notes that it can be uncomfortable for people to talk about disabilities in a holistic way.  Often, the issue becomes framed in a polarized manner, which she calls the “ability-disability binary” (p. 401).  Ware believes that when people discuss disabilities, it is often from the point of the view of the person without the disability.  Ware notes a memoir by Michael Berbube about his life with his son with Down Syndrone.  Berbube noticed that conversations about his son often circled back to the same question that in the end, are you disappointed to have a child with Downs Syndrome?   Ware notices the same concept in that discussions about disabilities often come back to the same question: “Wouldn’t you rather be more like me?” (p. 402). 

            To combat this belief of people with disabilities as “the others” who people view as objects of their own experiences instead of people with experiences in their own right (summary of Griffin quote, p. 405), Ware worked with a teacher to develop a curriculum to change the perception of people with disabilities as “the others.”  Ware worked with a 9th grade English teacher at a magnet high school for the arts in New York to create a unit that discussed disability as a part of the whole human experience.  Students wrote responses about what they felt the term “the other” meant and analyzed where they got their ideas about normalcy from (p. 406-407).  Students also responded to poems by Sue Napolitano and haikus from the perspectives of people who have disabilities.  Examining disability from this perspective led one student to ask, “It’s funny that we don’t really talk about disability in school.  If it is just another way to live, then why don’t’ we know more about that way?” (p. 411) Based on this student’s reflection, do you have any ideas why we “don’t know more about that way?”

              This course left the teacher with many reflections as well.  After talking about disability in such an open way in this course, Painting realized that he has left this topic out of his curriculum for the 17 years that he had previously taught.  It made him feel regretful that he didn’t provide the space in his classroom to talk about disability because he felt that he “…lacked the authority to talk about disability; that it was someone else’s job.”  As teachers, there are many subjects that we want to discuss in our classroom, but we often do not bring them up.  Maybe because they are uncomfortable, or we are nervous about how students will react, or we feel we don’t have the knowledge or authority to bring up these issues ourselves.  Are there any issues that you would like to address in your classroom, but that you haven’t felt that you had the right skills, background, or experiences to do so?

            Other questions, drawn from Ware and Paintings course goals, to consider in responses might be:

1. “What can I learn about my own identity through understanding the identities of others?”          (p.405)

2. “Can disability ever represent anything other than negative?” (p. 405)

3.  Where do we get our ideas of normalcy from? (p. 406-407)

           

 

 

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