Disability Studies Quarterly
Winter 2005, Volume 25, No. 1
Copyright 2005 by the Society
for Disability Studies


Banks, Martha E. and Ellyn Kaschak, (Eds.). Women with Visible and Invisible Disabilities: Multiple Intersections, Multiple Issues, Multiple Therapies. New York: The Haworth Press, Inc., 2003. 382 pages, $69.95, Cloth 0-7890-1936-1, $39.95 Paper 0-7890-1937-X.

Reviewed by Donna Widener, Growing Through It, Eugene, OR

Titles of books, articles, stories, reports, and narratives fascinate me. I, as a reader, experience a great sense of anticipation when I am compelled to follow the title of any given work wherever it may lead. Women with Visible and Invisible Disabilities: Multiple Intersections, Multiple Issues, Multiple Therapies was no exception. I responded to the bidding of this title and settled into the world that the editors and authors have created here. The research, narratives and articles collected and edited by Drs. Martha E. Banks and Ellyn Kaschak, provided me with hours of engaging reading and provocative reflections far surpassing the enticement of the title.

This work is set up into four independent, yet interrelated sections. This organizational design is the living embodiment of the underlying issues of diversities within commonalities. The first section, consisting of the Forward and the Preface, brings the reader to what is a common ground for women with disabilities. It provides a down-to-earth, yet engaging discussion of the social context of disabilities in a world dominated by unequal power relations. It locates women with disabilities within these systems of dominant power relations and outlines the extensive range of the consequences for these women' lives, both through narrative and statistical displays. Additionally, this historical description of the social construction of disability invites both professional and novice readers to engage intellectually and experientially in the ensuing discussions.

The next sections include numerous and varied writings that fall into three general areas: "Visible and Invisible Impairments Experienced by Women"; "Personal and Interpersonal Concerns for Women with Disabilities"; and "Empowerment: Using Culture and Context to Enhance and Facilitate Feminist Therapy". Continuing the overall schema for organizing the book, these sections first invite the readers to understand the extensiveness of life experiences of women who find themselves in the social categorization of disability. Next, the work introduces the multifaceted nature and consequences of these disabilities on the women's mental health and quality of life. The final section presents ways of giving these women personalized, healing support, both on the individual and institutional levels.

One of the most striking things about this collection is the almost perfect balance that the authors find between a narrative, conversational voice, and a rigorous, professional voice. As in so many of the articles, the authors furnish the actual voices of the women for whom they are speaking. Melissa Farely presents the voices of women who have been disabled to greater and lesser degrees by prostitution, domestic violence, and childhood sexual abuse by interspersing quotations that enlighten her poignant, illustrative scenarios. A personal narrative introduction portraying the mental and emotional states that accompany having a part-time disability is used by Poulin and Gouliquer. Other strategies for furnishing the women's own voices are expository journal writings followed by brief analytical discussions (Mukherjee, Reis, and Heller); and third person chronicles from interviews (Dotson, Stinson, and Christian). The writings that follow a more traditional research format still find incredible, creative ways to maintain the personal nature of the issues and topics of the women who provided them with data.

Another valuable contribution this collection makes to the field is the ways in which the editors treat the intersections between and differences between VISIBLE and INVISIBLE disabilities. Banks and Kaschak have excelled at the incredibly difficult task of describing the nuances within unique situations and consequences for the women with invisible disabilities that are less often described and analyzed without losing the common grounds all women with disabilities face in the systems of dominant power relations. They accomplish this by including the works that neither overemphasize nor demean the extensive impact of invisible disabilities on women's lives. These works give equal treatment to both visible and invisible disabilities without placing one above or below the other as more or less valid, credible, and real.

The works in this collection present abundant combinations of the social characteristics that create unique social locations for the women who possess them, all the while never losing sight of the commonalities that women face because of their disabilities in an unequal social structure. In other words, each work in the collection focuses on a particular group of women with unique issues facing them. However, each of these works resonate the common themes of women with disabilities and therefore, the implications, needs, and descriptions for effective mental health treatments. These interwoven themes found in each piece include the detrimental effects of social isolation and invisibility, the need to be understood as whole women who are normal from their frame of reference, and finally to have access to the resources to ensure the quality of life they so deserve. This collection makes it an invaluable contribution to the field and to helping to facilitate action for those women so adversely affected in this current social climate.