As we wrote in the call for papers for "Interventions in Disability Studies Pedagogy," this special issue of DSQ, we believe it is time to look inward, outward, and around for innovative pedagogical principles and practices to grow the field of Disability Studies (DS). By inward, we invited considerations of pedagogical methods, assignments and practices already used by disability studies scholars in their teaching and presentations. By going outward, we invited creative submissions from teachers, cultural workers and activists who are thinking and embodying disability studies pedagogy or social justice pedagogy which takes disability from a critical stance. The response to our call was overwhelming, in scope and in content. It is clear that we are fortunate to work in a field that takes not only its subject matter seriously and rigorously but also the way it is transmitted.

We constructed the table of contents and this introduction with what we believe are three core structures of DS pedagogy, which we encountered repeatedly in the work we received: innovation and expansion of DS; collaboration; and modeling accessibility. In the spirit of interdependence, which we believe to be a core feature of disability/Mad/crip activism and scholarship, we collaborated on the preparation of this special issue and tried to embody its spirit in this introduction. We posed to ourselves the same questions we asked our authors to contemplate on- what is Disability Studies pedagogy and what does teaching Disability Studies mean to you? Our responses follow, following the general introduction to the wonderful and diverse articles contained in this special issue.

*****

Liat Ben-Moshe:

Within disability culture and disability/crip/mad/Deaf communities there is the adage of 'these are things better left said only amongst ourselves'. So let me say this to the in-crowd reading this special issue of DSQ- I perceive Disability Studies as missionary work and much of my pedagogy is the work of conversion. I mean conversion both in terms of access- how to model universal instructional design, how to convert the inaccessible to the more accessible, how to think and feel access differently (or at all). But I also mean conversion in terms of converting students to understanding disability intersectional, as an identity and a culture. Of course, there are many ways to do that, as the excellent articles and sample assignments gathered here demonstrate; and there are also myriad ways of understanding what 'identity' and 'culture' mean (they can focus on histories of resilience and of pride as much as they can focus on ableism, pain, trauma and intersectional oppression).

In addition, as a (prison) abolitionist, I take seriously the idea suggested by Mathiesen (1974) that abolition lies in the unfinished, in what is not yet there, that it is in the process of collective trial and error that we create the world we imagine together. If we have definitive solutions, then we are not asking the right questions. For me, the DS classroom is that kind of space, of prefiguration, of taking into account both difficult and uncommon content and unfamiliar forms by which to convey it.

The end result of this pedagogy can be quite ambiguous. Students that emerge out of my classes with more knowledge about the lives of disabled people but without a critical shift in perspective, could be perceived as failure of the kind of DS pedagogy I espouse. But if we take seriously Halberstam's urge to engage with the "Queer art of failure" (2001) and Sedgwick's call on us to differentiate between knowledge, ways of knowing/reading and acting up on that (critical) knowledge, a queer/crip/dis perspective on knowledge transmission emerges. In Sedgwick's words, what interests her is "What does knowledge do - the pursuit of it, the having and exposing of it, the receiving-again of knowledge of what one already knows? How, in short, is knowledge performative, and how best does one move among its causes and effects?" (p. 4). In short, what interests me in this pedagogical disjuncture is perhaps the activation of the connection between form and content— what do our students do with their knowledge of Disability Studies? And in this prefigurative way, the process of pedagogy (how was the knowledge acquired) seems as important as the end goal, whatever that may be.

*****

Ally Day:

bell hooks tells us that we should teach from pain.

When I began graduate school and had to write my first pedagogical statement, I spent a lot of time with hooks' Teaching to Transgress, imagining myself as the firm but compassionate feminist studies professor, valuing student knowledge while pushing students' beyond the boundaries of their assumptions. I imagined that together as a community, we would work through the pain, literal and visceral, that comes from systems of oppression and the process of dismantling those systems that have tethered us to our own ways of knowing. And I thought as a neuroqueer (then I used crazy), working class white lesbian, I could reach even the most reticent students.

Then, I began teaching.

And the problem was, I was teaching about health—feminist health at first and then gradually building disability studies content and courses as I became more familiar with the field. And pain and trauma were not just the background effect of the content—they were the content. This idea that Elaine Scarry has that pain has no language was not going to cut it when I needed to find a language, a pedagogy, that could speak to pain: its history, its social movement, its literature and art. When we are teaching about embodied experiences, not only do we have to recognize pain, but we have to honor pleasure and the power of what Audre Lorde calls the erotic. As a graduate student, I had no idea how to do this.

As a first year professor, I am still not sure I know how to do this.

But I have the immense pleasure of working with a team of politically engaged, feminist, anti-racist disability studies professors who are eager to work with me as we come up with pedagogies that match our course content. And I cannot imagine a better time, personally and professionally, to work with scholars, both emerging and those with decades of experience, to think through not just what we teach but how we teach. Disability Studies—the thing that is most sexy about it—is that it transforms our very foundations of knowing.

This collection, for me and I hope for others, serves as a reminder that while we still have work to do, we can do it within a community to activists, scholars, and wicked smart teachers. And for this, I offer my gratitude.

—I would like to dedicate this short reflection to my first Disability Studies professor and life-long comrade, Brenda Brueggemann.

*****

Jim Ferris:

I never wanted to be a teacher while I was growing up. After I passed through the cowboy-firefighter phase, my career aspirations focused on the three Ps: physician, pope, and president. What I think I wanted from the three Ps, though, was access to a fourth P: power. As a disabled kid who did not have input into the most important decisions in my life, I wanted power.

When, years later, I was drawn into teaching, I learned of the complex interplay of power dynamics that occurs in and around the classroom. I am still learning, and this is some of the most difficult and rewarding work I do.

Some things I try to remind myself before each semester:

  • Ableism is a pervasive, powerful and mostly unrecognized force in society. I am still working to eradicate it in myself, so I know it will be present in class.
  • Students come to disability studies classes for a wide variety of reasons, from wanting to help those less fortunate, to being disabled or having a disabled sibling, from thinking the class will be easy, to having it meet at the right time or in the right building; combinations of the above are common.
  • Not everyone is going to get it during the semester: some will get it, and that is profoundly gratifying; some will learn to fake it for the semester, and I hope something sticks for them after the semester is done; some will drive me near despair. All have things to offer, all have things to gain.

Teaching is often called an art, and sometimes I believe it. Like other artists, we teachers seek to structure experience for our students; we usually know what we hope they will draw from it, but as with any audience, we can only let something happen, hope it happens, try to figure out how to structure experience more effectively next time. Our students do not owe us transformation; their process is their own; they are not responsible for performing for us, even when we most want them to. I find it helpful to remember that the light bulb that seems dark now may glow in five years, or twenty, when events in their lives flip a switch and something makes sense that didn't before. They may not even connect the new insight with the disability studies class of long ago — but if we open the door to later insight, job well done.

I don't get to control the process, let alone the outcome. But I don't want to control the process or the outcome; if we believe what we teach, those are rightly up to our students. Teaching is hard work; teaching is a calling; teaching is noble and all that. But it's also a damned good way to work for social justice, to seed social change, to leave things better than we found them. Fortunately, it can also be a lot of fun.

*****

Kim Nielsen:

For me, teaching is joyful, agonizing, and nearly all consuming. I value the advice given to me early in my career that "one bad day does not a bad teacher make," but unfortunately nor is it the case that one good day makes a good teacher. Good teaching requires constant, active, and purposeful interventions.

After reading the wonderful essays in this collection, I found myself turning to writers formative to me as a teacher and as a human being. Adrienne Rich taught me to enact teaching as an "ethical and intellectual contract between teacher and student," "a pledge of mutual seriousness" (Rich, 231, 235). In essence, she taught me that scorn has no place in spaces of learning. Parker Palmer taught me to embrace the uncomfortable nature of teaching as a "daily exercise in vulnerability." He convinced me that I matter, for "good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher" (10). While neither sage explicitly claim(ed) disability studies, Rich is widely used by such and Palmer claims depression as a core of his identity and learning. Both attempt(ed) to practice their preaching; or, to use disability studies language, to embody and enact the practices we espouse.

It's easy to dismiss interventions as overly laborious. Googling "intervention" led me to long checklists requiring staging, firm guidelines, and medicalized consequences. Intervening in ableism, however, is core to the intellectual and activist task of disability studies. We must do so not only in our scholarship, but in our teaching—and in every aspect of our teaching. Teaching is difficult, and teaching in anti-ableist, feminist, and antiracist frameworks is even harder. The results and joys, however, are worth it; and the essays herein lay out multiple paths for intervention. Within this field there is pedagogical creativity and richness, the drive to improve, and the desire to intervene. We are truly both scholars and learners.

*****

DS pedagogy- the collection:

We begin this special issue with interventions that expand the DS classroom and curriculum in new, provocative and critical ways. Collectively, the first set of articles ask: what can a (different, intersectional, critical) DS pedagogy do? In "Developing and Reflecting on a Black Disability Studies Pedagogy" the National Black Disability Coalition takes up what they describe as black DS content and pedagogy with Disability Justice as a way to transform educational spaces. They provide a collaboratively-authored syllabus, as well as reflections from members of the Coalition on their experiences of teaching and learning in Black DS classrooms.

Elizabeth Donaldson offers assignments and reflections on expanding the DS curriculum in bioethics to include discussion of mad labels, specifically the construct of schizophrenia. Donaldson believes that attention to issues of mental illness and the voices of those psychiatrized has been relatively scarce in disability studies and in bioethics scholarship. Donaldson therefore offers assignments that revolve around key concepts—such as autonomy, informed consent, and competency—which have specialized definitions in the field of bioethics, and by doing so also benefit from the critical interventions that a disability studies perspective offers.

DS pedagogy expands not only the curriculum but also our pedagogies in radical ways, or at least it can. Hilary Selznick seeks to interrogate not just ableism with her composition students, but normalcy itself, the common place, the everyday assumptions of privilege. She asks: "How do students' use normalizing discourses in relation to disability and other marginalized identity categories? And, how might educators pedagogically intervene in such discourses?" Selznick offers several ways for such critical interventions by interrogating students' normalizing discourses by providing critical feedback on their writing, rather than in class discussions. She also offers a unique autoethnographic methodology to be utilized by teacher/researchers who want to further investigate the DS classroom pedagogically.

The second set of articles spotlight another central focus of DS pedagogy: interdependence and collaboration. Greenstein et al. discuss a ten-year partnership in which people with intellectual disabilities became a central part of instruction in a degree program in a university in the UK. The authors not only reflect on how this partnership enriched the DS classroom and provided transformative educational opportunities for students, but they also share the barriers to doing such critical collaborative work in the changing climate of higher education in the UK. Throughout the paper, from the accessible plain language abstract to the insertions of transcripts from various collaborators in this project, the authors model what a collaborative and accessible DS pedagogy looks like.

Anastasia Kayiatos and Joan Ostrove share their experiences of developing and co-teaching a course called Minding the Body, which integrated scholarship from disability studies, feminist/queer studies, psychology, and Russian Studies. As with the previous paper, the authors not only discuss how such interdisciplinary scholarship transformed their teaching and their students' learning outcomes but also model the gains of collaboration in the writing of the paper. They playfully loop between narrative chronological order, first person and dual or team sharing of teaching, constructing the material and, in essence, learning from each other.

What happens when you introduce Disability Studies arts curriculum not just to DS classrooms but to a general first year seminar? John Derby and Valerie Karr provide intriguing answers to this question by discussing their students' understanding of ableism at the end of the semester by showcasing and analyzing the artwork created as the culmination of this collaborative course. Their findings suggest that students gained at least a rudimentary understanding of ableism but that there were barriers and complexities for further knowledge acquisition, which they discuss in the piece.

The last set of readings seeks not only to expand but to transform the DS classroom at its core, in ways that convey that the pedagogy is the message. Angela Carter writes about the debate around trigger warnings in the classroom and suggests that understanding trauma as a pedagogical issue is the work of feminist disability studies pedagogy. As Carter asserts in the article, "When approached through this hybrid pedagogy, the conversation shifts from whether we should use trigger warnings, to why trauma itself is an imperative social justice issue within our classrooms."

The last two articles re-imagine the classroom through another important component of DS pedagogy: modeling access as core and not supplemental to curriculum and its delivery. In "Audio Description as a Pedagogical Tool," Georgina Kleege and Scott Wallin showcase how utilizing audio description in the classroom can be more than translational but become transformative. As they suggest, "along with increasing awareness of disability, audio description pushes students to practice close reading of visual material, deepen their analysis, and engage in critical discussions around the methodology, standards and values, language, and role of interpretation in a variety of academic disciplines." Thus, modeling for access become a pedagogical tool.

In a similar way, Jay Dolmage discusses the merits of moving to a universal design approach to learning and teaching, not specifically for the DS classroom, but for any instance by which learning or teaching takes place. As with previous articles in this issue, Dolmage does this by modeling innovation and creating a wiki for universal design for instruction, to help readers move forward from checklists and do's and don'ts to a more nuanced use of UDL in their own work and from their own experiences.

We end this special issue with two complimentary sections that add to the 'how-to' approach offered by Dolmage and other contributors in this issue. We offer a section with a few examples of assignments and syllabi, not as definitive or 'best of' —our work in this field is so interdisciplinary and in many ways idiosyncratic. But we offer these few examples (out of the many we received and the numerous examples out there) as ways to get the creative juices flowing, to start imagining how to transform, expand, collaborate and intersect our own practices.

The book review section is also devoted to this task of modeling interventions in DS pedagogy and features Michelle Jarman review of Ronald Berger's textbook Introducing Disability Studies, Georgina Kleege's review on Petra Kuppers's new textbook Studying Disability Arts and Culture: An Introduction and Ellen Samuels' review of the graphic novel Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me.

We offer this special issue as intervening in an ongoing conversation on DS pedagogy: what can Disability Studies curriculum and delivery do? What gains does it bring to students, to education, to our classrooms, to pedagogy, to teachers, to larger communities, to ourselves? What are the effects of intervening? But perhaps we should also ask, what are the effects of not intervening, of leaving things to the status quo? The excellent pieces in this special issue certainly have varied responses to these queries, but they do not offer definitive solutions. That contingency, that fluidity, that on-goingness seems to us to be a central feature of DS pedagogy. Enjoy.

Works Cited

  • Halberstam, J. (2011). The queer art of failure. Duke University Press.
  • Mathiesen, T. (1974). The politics of abolition. London: Martin Robertson.
  • Palmer, P. (2009). The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life. New York: Jossey-Bass.
  • Rich, A. (1979). On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose, 1966-1978. New York: Norton.
  • Sedgwick, E. K. (1997). "Paranoid reading and reparative reading, or, You're so paranoid, you probably think this introduction is about you." In Novel gazing: queer readings in fiction. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, 1-37. Durham: Duke University Press.
Return to Top of Page


Copyright (c) 2015 Liat Ben-Moshe, Allyson Day, Jim Ferris, Kim Nielsen



Volume 1 through Volume 20, no. 3 of Disability Studies Quarterly is archived on the Knowledge Bank site; Volume 20, no. 4 through the present can be found on this site under Archives.

Beginning with Volume 36, Issue No. 4 (2016), Disability Studies Quarterly is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license unless otherwise indicated. 

Disability Studies Quarterly is published by The Ohio State University Libraries in partnership with the Society for Disability Studies.

If you encounter problems with the site or have comments to offer, including any access difficulty due to incompatibility with adaptive technology, please contact libkbhelp@lists.osu.edu.

ISSN: 2159-8371 (Online); 1041-5718 (Print)