How children with disabilities are perceived and represented is an important area of study for disability studies. One of the most common ways that people interface with disability is through encounters with disabled children. Disability studies analyses help to counter the often-overwhelming discourses of pity and charity lodged at disabled children and onward as they age into adults. In HandiLand: The Crippest Place on Earth, disabled mother Elizabeth Wheeler examines literature and media about children with disabilities in order to better understand how disability is represented. These sources include her own experiences with disability, family experiences with disability, children's fiction and media, and current historical events, such as the Flint water crisis. Wheeler uses HandiLand as a term to describe progress made towards justice for disabled people and as a way to assess where more progress needs to be made in terms of equality.

Wheeler highlights four major concepts throughout the book: cripistemology, misfitting, prosthetic community, and intersectionality. She describes cripistemology as "kids and parents collude[ing] together to resist the idea that disability in public is a problem….help[ing] young people claim their right to belong" (Wheeler, 2019, p. 9). The second concept Wheeler highlights is misfitting—a term adopted from Rosemary Garland Thompson that describes when disabled people reveal the inaccessibility of a space because their bodies do not fit the space, thus prompting impetus to change the space. The third concept that Wheeler develops is that of the prosthetic community—a network of people, animals, resources, and anything else a disabled person may need that facilitates full inclusion. Finally, Wheeler weaves the concept of intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1993) into the text. Intersectionality, a concept originated in Black feminism, is an analytic that describes how multiple forms of oppression and identities such as race, class, gender, sexuality, and disability interact with each other in complex ways.

The next several paragraphs of this review are dedicated to highlighting notable and conceptually rich portions of the book. In "Part 1: Kids in Public Space," Wheeler discusses how disabled children, many of whom are either hers or within her immediate network, navigate spaces often meant for only non-disabled children. This section explores how disabled children work to make themselves visible in these spaces. These children advertently or inadvertently challenge who we think can belong in these spaces. For example, in chapter 3, "Epistemology of the Toilet," children with disabilities who need assistance with toileting and their family members build forms of knowledge around toilet talk and navigate physical and attitudinal barriers in public bathrooms. In this chapter, Wheeler discusses how a family, the Yozzos, were at the Denver airport, renowned for its state-of-the-art facilities. They found their children drenched in water because the automatic faucet was too close to the changing table that their disabled child was using. The water kept going off because the changing table was designed only for babies. Wheeler applies the concept of misfitting to the Yozzos' situation in order to demonstrate an important point about disability comedy- that the environment rather than the disabled person should be what is amusing about the situation. Wheeler also uses this chapter to highlight a concept she developed, family of disabilities, or "a kinship group in which members share a critical consciousness even if they don't all share the same disability" (Wheeler, 2019, p. 53). She explains that what is unique about families with disabilities is that they resist ableism, are versed in disability culture, and work with their children to build critical consciousness around disability and assert themselves. Wheeler argues that families with disabilities teach disabled children to not be ashamed of their bodies through daily occurrences such as toilet talk.

In "Part 2: Nature," Wheeler discusses how animal and human relationships are represented across literature and other forms of media and how some disabled people work to subvert ableist norms through the media they create. In chapter 5, "Disservice Animals," Wheeler highlights the online blog Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, a blog popular amongst teens and young adults. In this blog, Brosh, who has ADHD, tells and illustrates stories about herself and her dogs spectacularly failing at even the simplest of tasks. Wheeler connects three main concepts together with Brosh's work in this chapter. The first is Halberstam's concept of failure in The Queer Art of Failure. Halberstam states, "Failure allows us to escape the punishing norms that discipline behavior and manage human development with the goal of delivering us from unruly childhoods to orderly and predictable adulthoods" (Halberstam, 2011, p. 3). Next, Wheeler connects Halberstam's work on failure to the testing model of disability, demonstrated by the countless amounts of assessments intended to objectively measure for disability. The chapter is also contextualized by the multiple ways that human and animal relationships are represented in literature and media, from how animals are often used to restore masculinity of physically disabled boys to how animals are used to provide disabled people with interdependent forms of embodiment (Wheeler, 2019). However, rather than portray a functional human-animal relationship, Brosh displays dysfunctional human-animal relationships in order to expose the ableism largely embedded in the testing model of disability, notions of productivity, and misconceptions that adulthood is about being put-together. These concepts are common themes amongst Brosh's comics. For example, one of the comics highlighted shows how Brosh tries and spectacularly fails at teaching her dog, named the "simple dog," how to sit. The simple dog is known for its slow ability to learn. She then proceeds to administer an IQ test for the simple dog, which it also fails miserably. The entire comic demonstrates what Wheeler calls a cause-and-no-effect sequence because even though Brosh takes very systematic action to train and test the dog, it results in inaction or incorrect actions. Wheeler describes how this mirrors Brosh's experiences with the behavioral testing she received as a child. Wheeler argues that this comic demonstrates that both Brosh and her dog relate to disability in similar ways because they demonstrate that disability is complex and cannot be altered or harnessed. Wheeler further argues that Brosh's work breaks the deterministic cause-and-effect chain and exposes limits of human control over animals, other people, and nature. The cause-and-no-effect sequence also forecloses the possibility of charity and overcoming narratives in relation to disability.

In "Part 4: Fantasy," Wheeler discusses how disability appears in fiction. In chapter 10, "Runoff," Wheeler does an analysis on the young adult novel Orleans and draws comparisons between the book and the real-life environmental crises in Flint and Baltimore. Orleans takes place in a world where the United States has abandoned and isolated New Orleans due to a contagious and deadly disease where those who are blood type O are resistant to the disease and are hunted for their blood. The story follows Fen de la Guerre who aims to save a young baby who also has O blood type. Wheeler compares the plotline of Orleans to various environmental crises in which people of color are disproportionately affected. One of the commonalities that she draws between Orleans and these real-life environmental crises is that environmental pollution can result in disability. The state reacts by quarantining and policing rather than remedying the source of environmental pollution and providing the necessary resources and support to affected communities. Wheeler recounts the story of Freddie Gray, for whom disability and environmental damage are deeply intertwined. Gray had learning disabilities because of exposure to lead. He had frequent run-ins with the police, many encounters of which were through the school to prison pipeline. He was arrested for knife possession and sustained injuries to his spinal cord, leading to him falling into a coma and ultimately his death. Wheeler argues that if Gray had a prosthetic community rather than excessive policing, his life would have been vastly different. Wheeler states that the baby that Fen de la Guerre cares for in Orleans has a prosthetic community that allows the baby to ultimately survive. Contrastingly, Freddie Gray's life could have been vastly different if he had not been constantly racially profiled, had gainful job opportunities, financial support, and lived in an area where policies were put in place to prevent lead water pollution.

HandiLand: The Crippest Place on Earth is an accessible text that draws from a wide variety of sources from Wheeler's own experiences to literature and media. I appreciate some of the ways that Wheeler critically examines her positionality as a disabled person and as a parent and what this means for her work and the way that she parents. Wheeler's analyses on literature are detailed, contextualized, and provide the readers with the information they need to see Wheeler's processes and how she arrived at her ideas, concepts, and insights . She utilizes and incorporates a wide range of disability studies and feminist literature to help make sense of and enrich her analyses. One thing I wish the book had done better was to connect the introductory content and analyses more explicitly to crip theory. Since the book's title mentions the term crip and one of the main themes that the book introduces is cripistemologies, I would have liked to see reference to, explanation of the relationship to, or incorporation of Johnson and McRuer's (2014) "Cripistemologies: Introduction" article since it contains many important contributions to what cripistemology can mean. Overall, however, this book makes important contributions to disability studies especially in terms of how children's literature and media portrays disability as well as in how disabled children are represented in daily life activities. This text would also be a good resource for parents with disabled children to learn how to parent from more of a disability studies perspective.

References

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