The unfortunate truth is that many people who were important to the early disability rights movement in Berkeley in the 1970s died prior to recording oral histories, writing books, or leaving retrievable accounts of the time. Corbett Joan OToole writes Fading Scars: My Queer Disability History to document her story of that time. She is careful to remind the reader that it is her story only—she is not speaking for others—and others may remember things differently. These are common conceits of memoir and creative nonfiction, but lest anyone accuse her of misremembering, she admits to the possibility, and even likelihood of being incorrect at times, and clarifies this on the outset.

Fading Scars is made up of thirteen essays that together form a collection of significant disability rights history in Berkeley, as well as activism that stemmed from Berkeley. Included in the book are chapters that explore the San Francisco 504 sit-in, times at the University of California Berkeley, the Center for Independent Living, Berkeley, the International Disabled Women's Symposium, Fourth World Conference on Women, and the Non-Governmental Forum on Women in Beijing. Beyond these historical personal narratives, there are also essays that promote the need for disability advocacy to be intersectional and include people who are not straight white males with physical disabilities.

O'Toole encourages this intersectionality between disabled rights advocacy groups and disabled people of different races, genders, types of disabilities, and sexual orientations. She continues this push in a chapter on disabled parents, which includes parents who are disabled, parents of disabled children, and people who make up both groups. O'Toole explores how often disabled people have their reproductive rights stolen from them, either by forced sterilization, lack of opportunity, and governmental agencies deciding that people will not make good parents simply because they are disabled , removing their children in the process. The social stigma of disabled people wanting to have children and who do have children is also unpacked.

The chapter about disabled parents also gives some of O'Toole's own background of adopting a disabled little girl from Japan. As is the case throughout the book, O'Toole mixes personal narrative with more scholarly information. She tells the story of the adoption and the problems caused by a mix of the issues that presented themselves because she did not speak Japanese, and she traveled in a wheelchair to a country that, at the time, did not have a law requiring proper accommodations for wheelchair users. Her manner of writing is compelling and holds the reader's interest throughout the book.

O'Toole's chapter titled "Violence Against Disabled People" is an intense look at the violence that occurs not only to disabled people, but often because they are disabled. She writes how "[i]f disabled people report the abuse that's occurring, we're seen as vulnerable victims who need interventions, which often means even more restrictions on our lives. But if we don't report the abuse […,] we're not challenging the ableist environment that allows the abuser to continue" (165). The chapter examines violence against disabled people in medical settings, institutions, and the community. She explores how violence impacts those with intellectual disabilities in even greater numbers. O'Toole also discusses how frequently disabled people are imprisoned due to their disabilities. O'Toole also writes about "altruistic filicide," which she describes as incidences when parents kill their disabled children, and at times get away with it without spending time in prison.

The wording and sentence structure in Fading Scars are straightforward. When research is used, footnotes are simplified and words like "ibid" are explained for those encountering the book who, for any host of reasons, have not been formally educated in institutions of higher education. O'Toole points out that scholars come in many forms—not only those who have degrees, but also those whose disability scholarship includes reading books, articles, and journals and other sources available through friends, libraries (when publically accessible), and online resources.

It is significant that O'Toole records her own history within the Berkeley disability advocacy movement in these pages. It is a valuable perspective for anyone to gather and absorb, no matter how learned on the topic. The viewpoint of each person who was there is different, and it is critical to have multiple recordings of that history. O'Toole mentions that the electronic version of Fading Scars is available through a variety of sources free and at low cost, geared at having it accessible to all readers, including those who have low incomes, often due to disabilities.

The only two possible faults are both addressed within the text as deliberate editorial decisions. Even with the simplified footnotes, it would be nice if Fading Scars included page numbers when quotes are used. They are not on O'Toole's website, either, which contains the full bibliographic information. There is also some amount of repetition. The reason stated for this is so that the essays can be read out of order. If one is reading the book straight through, however, it makes the collection seem imperfect. This is only something to be aware of rather than a significant issue with the book. Allowing readers to choose essays they want to read separately could even be viewed as a virtue.

O'Toole's pages on Berkeley are significant and something everyone should read; they share needed information on a history anyone in Disability Studies should know or revisit. It is perhaps the other essays in the collection that shed light on aspects of disability rights advocacy history that are unknown to more people, and therefore even more critical to have recorded in Fading Scars. O'Toole has been active in local, statewide, regional, national, and even international activism, and the book explores aspects of all of this activism. In her argument that disability rights advocacy groups are not embracing intersectionality including race, queerness, invisible disabilities, and disabled parents well enough, Fading Scars: My Queer Disability History considers many significant points in an unapologetic manner and tone, something necessary and important as Disability Studies moves forward and gains momentum as a field and movement.


  1. OToole identifies people throughout Fading Scars as being disabled, nondisabled, or unknown (in disability status) based on information publically available about that person. She uses it as an empowering tool, and one I choose to adopt for myself in this instance.
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Copyright (c) 2016 Elizabeth Glass

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