In this article, the authors discuss friendship as a method of qualitative inquiry. After defining friendship and positing it as a kind of fieldwork, the methodological foundations of friendship as method are established (Tillmann-Healy, 2003). The purpose of this narrative woven autoethnographic study is to examine the role of friendship in describing disabling physical and attitudinal access barriers in a university setting. Friendship represents a critical analytic lens through which disabled/nondisabled individuals alike may examine their positions, understandings, regimes of practices, and particular knowledges. Friends —Mark and Dan — discuss their experiences of disablement and reflections on dis/ability. The authors draw from their experiences of friendship and disability in higher education and their allied identities to discuss and examine questions of access, disclosure, and inclusion.
Research on disability and friendship between able-bodied and disabled persons often frames friendship as a generous gift bestowed upon disabled persons (Reinders, 2008) by able-bodied individuals. Dominant research informed by the psy-sciences on disability and friendship (Asbjørnslett, Engelsrud, & Helseth, 2011; Calder, Hill, & Pellicano, 2013; De Boer, Pijl, Post, & Minnaert, 2013; Frederickson, 2010; Glynis & Kelly, 2005; Petrina, Carter, & Stephenson, 2014; Salmon, 2013; Wiener & Schneider, 2002; Vaughn & Elbaum, 1999) often uncritically represents disabled persons as fortunate receivers of friendship from kind, able-bodied friendship givers. Friendship is framed as a rehabilitative pill administered to disabled persons to overcome their lacking, problematic, socially deficient bodies and minds. Disability is understood as an individual problem which itself represents a barrier to friendship.
Disabled persons are often represented as the sole benefactors from friendship with able-bodied persons. Able-bodied persons are generally represented as normal, typical, regular, ideal, where able-bodiedness and the privilege associated therein is not discussed. Disabled persons are subsequently constructed as abnormal. There is a notable absence of research examining intersections of disability, friendship and able-bodied privilege. It is necessary to examine how limiting paradigms of disability may be challenged through friendship (Worth, 2013).
Rather than acknowledging friendship as a critical space to unpack and problematize dominant ableist norms, much research concludes that friendships between able-bodied and disabled individuals typically do not form in the first place. For example, De Boer, Pijl, and Minnaert (2012) state "why students with disabilities experience difficulties in making and keeping friends is not quite clear" (p.380). Similarly, Mason, Timms, Hayburn, and Watters (2013) contend that friendships may be elusive for persons with learning disabilities, though this study draws on the voices and experiences of disabled persons. In the literature review by Shany, Wiener, and Assido (2012), many papers focus on what is lacking in friendships involving persons with learning disabilities, rather than discussing affordances of those friendships. Such broad strokes fail to appreciate how friendships can empower those involved to challenge the status quo.
Paraphrasing Derrida (2005), friendship provides advantages, the greatest of which is unequalled hope towards a future which goes beyond death. By its very nature friendship is active. Friendship requires renewal, a constant return to the shared understandings and state of becoming friends. Bunnell et al. (2012) state: "friendships require — and may even be defined in terms of — active, ongoing and necessarily reciprocal work" (p.493). Thus, friendships represent fluid relationships perpetually revisited and reborn. According to Tillmann-Healy (2003): "When friendships do develop across social groups, the bonds take on political dimensions. Opportunities exist for dual consciousness-raising and for members of dominant groups…to serve as advocates for friends" (p.731). Friendships may encourage allied positions to be taken up with a shared desire to promote social justice (Tillmann-Healy, 2003).
How can conceptualizations of friendship advance our understandings of able-bodiness/disability in educational realms? "Friendship as method is a relatively underexplored-and often unacknowledged-method" (Owton & Allen-Collinson, 2014, p.283). In this paper, Mark and Dan discuss their friendship as an analytic lens to unpack the nexus of able-bodied and disability-related experiences between friends in university settings. To arrive at a definition of friendship suitable for the present work, we read widely, seeking definitions of friendship that acknowledge the mutual benefits afforded by friendship. Our definition is similar to that of Schuh, Sundar, and Hagner (2014), though we focus more heavily on reciprocation. In lieu of an exhaustive discussion of definitions of friendship, we have chosen to offer and operationalize our own:
Friendship represents a mutually beneficial social relationship based on a proven history of trust, faith, vulnerability, honesty, kindness, understanding, and shared interests. It appreciates both sameness and difference and entails the sharing of passions, desires, and goals, which sometimes may be held in common, and at other times may diverge. Nevertheless, this reciprocal social relationship binds friends as a team, not out of obligation, proximity, or necessity, but out of respect and love in Self/Other and a constant willful active necessary return to friendship and becoming friends. Friendship is a source of joy.
Through the lens of friendship our duo and team was able to counter able-bodied norms and expectations, redefine our individual beliefs and perceptions, and develop critical nuanced understandings of notions of abled/disabled, normal/abnormal. This also allowed us to think critically about institutional physical and attitudinal barriers to access, as well as socio-spatial impacts of university policies and regimes of practices. It is from this basis — the basis of friendship — that we seek to critically explore our enabling/disabling university-related experiences.
We adopt a woven autoethnographic narrative approach (Chase, 2005) to enable a politics of friendship which counters dominant medicalizing and individualizing ways of understanding disability. In particular, we reflect on socio-spatial implications of practices, beliefs, and attitudes as they relate to our friendship as being political and politicized in university settings. Friendship lies between Self and Other; it is the common, liminal, interstitial space that connects Us. Stories of disability and friendship exist in the aporia, in ways that engender an interrogation of what it means to be human both individually and collectively. Stories of friendship and disability are spaces for critical thought and reflection. They allow us to rethink and reengage in thinking about the edges of the established ways we make sense of Self and Others.
Biographiess: About the friends
The following biographies were collaboratively written to provide a rich description of the founding and sole members of our team:
Dan is 30 years old and is a white heterosexual male 5'7 in height upper middle class and of Italian-Canadian ethnic cultural background. Dan is close with his family, parents and two siblings. Dan is a chicken sharwma enthusiast, proficient in computer programming, a baseball aficionado, piano player, video gamer and incredible loyal, kind friend. Dan is also blind, reads Braille and uses a white cane as a mobility device to navigate unfamiliar environments. He has a dog named Spino who on a good day would like to take a bite out of Mark.
Mark is 30 years old and is a white heterosexual male 6'1 in height upper middle class and of Italian-Canadian ethnic cultural background. Mark comes from a very supportive family, dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Mark is an only child and had difficulty dealing with the loss of his mother as a result of breast cancer at the age of 15. Mark loves soccer, drumming, skiing, and playing piano. Mark fancies himself to be a talented writer, but also uses the word "fancies" in sentences to describe his writing skills. Mark is incredibly passionate about chicken sharwmas. Mark does not presently identify as a person with a disability, but has experienced clinical depression. When experiencing depression, Mark preferred not to socialize, or to socialize in smaller settings with people he closely trusted. Throughout the course of Mark's undergraduate degree, he did not disclose his depression to university instructors, family members, and many friends; Dan was an exception and was fully aware and supportive.
Our friendship: Our story
This is the story of our friendship as it is situated in educational contexts and spaces. Our friendship occupies numerous other spaces; this is our shared experiential education story. Dan and Mark grew up together. We started off together at an early age of seven attending Italian language schools on Sunday afternoons. Our parents knew each other. We went to separate elementary schools a few blocks away from each other. As kids we did not really hangout outside of Italian school. Once high school began we united as a team. We had math class, English, physics, and music together and we achieved high grade averages. Mark took pride in minimal effort with maximum output in terms of measured, graded, recorded achievement; Dan worked more diligently but enjoyed Mark's antics and always achieved high grade averages. We would goof off and play with a typewriter-type Brailler to communicate with one another. Dan taught Mark how to read and type Braille. We had our own language: Braille became our code. Being 'good boys' but extremely talkative and easily distracted, we drove many of our high school teachers to implement measures threatening to divide us, but ultimately keeping us as a pair sitting together in all classes in which we were both enrolled. At parent teacher interviews teachers would often make references to Mark and Dan despite the fact we were not siblings and thus had different parents.
We graduated high school and went to do our undergraduate studies at the same university in different programs. We attended one another's lectures, hung out at the library, went to the campus bar, had lunches together, took the campus and city buses, and always made time to laugh and not take university life too seriously, even during stressful times when we had assignments, exams, and life pressures. Our friendship endures.
Qualitative inquiry: Methodology
This research uses friendship as method. Tillmann-Healy (2003) posits friendship as a type of fieldwork and mode of qualitative inquiry asserting that: "friendship and fieldwork are similar endeavours. Both involve being in the world with others. To friendship and fieldwork communities, we must gain entrée. We negotiate roles" (p.732). Tillmann-Healy (2003) proposed that friendship as a method involves researching with the practices, at the pace, in the natural contexts, and with an ethic of friendship. Friendship as method involves engaging with multiple nuanced perspectives, thinking critically about spatio-temporal norms, researching in the places and contexts that matter to the people and populations involved, and is driven and informed by the aims, goals, and desires forged through friendship. Friendship as a method may draw from interpretivist approaches stemming from hermeneutics, standpoint theory, phenomenology and critiques of positivism (Tillmann-Healy, 2003). It may draw from the groundwork of feminist researchers and be useful in research with political commitments to conscious-raising, empowerment and social change (Tillmann-Healy, 2003). Thus, friendship as method "rejects scientific neutrality, universal truths, and dispassionate inquiry and works toward social justice, relational truths, and passionate inquiry" (Tillmann-Healy, 2003, p.733). Tillmann-Healy (2003) assert:
Calling for inquiry that is open, multivoiced, and emotionally rich, friendship as method involves the practices, the pace, the contexts, and the ethics of friendship. Researching with the practices of friendship means that although we employ traditional forms of data gathering…our primary procedures are those we use to build and sustain friendship: conversation, everyday involvement, compassion, giving, and vulnerability. (p.734)
Tillmann-Healy (2003) demonstrate that friendship as method allows for issues to emerge organically in the experiences of everyday life. Thus, friendship as a method is viable for engaging in disability-related inquiry as it necessarily entails aligning research questions with the interests, politics, and desires of disabled persons. Undertaking disability-related research informed by an ethic of friendship attends to such inquiry as an affective, emotional process.
This inquiry is also shaped by an autoethnographic woven narrative approach. Muncey (2010) defines autoethnography as the idea of multiple layers of consciousness, the vulnerable self, coherent self, critique of self in social contexts, subversion of dominant discourses, and as having evocative potential. Autoethnographic accounts contain personal stories that may elucidate larger cultural meanings (Muncey, 2010). Stories about lived experiences of individuals with disabilities and friendships are powerful not only because they share important information about peoples' lives but also because they can shape and shift societal perceptions about disability. Few narrative accounts exist on the lived experiences of persons with disabilities in university settings. Why tell these stories? Chase (2005) states:
narrative researchers treat narrative — whether oral or written — as a distinct form of discourse. Narrative is retrospective meaning making — the shaping or ordering of past experience. Narrative is a way of understanding one's own and others' actions, or organizing events and objects into a meaningful whole, and of connecting and seeing the consequences of actions and events overtime…in addition to describing what happened, narratives also express emotions, thoughts, and interpretations. (p.656)
A narrative approach allows for retrospective thought about the actions of Self and Other and encourages sense making of past events and behaviours of social actors. Chase (2005) suggests analytic strategies based on narratives that are composed between researchers and participants where interpretations may be developed by several various narrators.
narrative researchers view narratives as verbal action- as doing or accomplishing something. Among other things, narrators explain, entertain, inform, defend, complain, and confirm or challenge the status quo. Whatever the particular action, when someone tells a story, [that person] shapes, constructs, and performs the self, experience, and reality. When researchers treat narratives as actively creative in this way, they emphasize the narrator's voice(s). (p.657)
According to Chase (2005) autoethnographic approaches permit narrative researchers to turn "the analytic lens on themselves and their interactions with others" and to "write, interpret, and/or perform their own narratives about culturally significant experiences" (p.660). Autoethnographic narrative may "disrupt the politics of traditional research relationships, traditional forms of representation, and traditional social science orientations to audiences" (Chase, 2005 p.660). Thus, through engaging in autoethnographic narrative inquiry we as a team hope to weave our storied lived experiences in university landscapes to demonstrate how our stories may reveal our socially situated experiences of disablement. The act of narrative storytelling has allowed us to make sense of and contextualize our experiences of exclusion due to institutional physical and attitudinal barriers we encountered limiting our access.
Narrative inquiry: Disability Studies, friendship and processes of disablement
This inquiry is situated in the field of disability studies. According to Titchkosky (2012) disability studies might offer alternative ways of knowing and alternative approaches to producing knowledge. Goodley (2011) asserts that as a field Disability Studies:
are a broad area of theory, research and practice that are antagonistic to the popular view that disability equates with personal tragedy. While we may identify people as having physical, sensory, cognitive or mental health impairments, disability studies place the problems of disability in society. (p. xi)
Thus, disability studies rejects disability as a tragedy, and instead examines societal norms, attitudes and values which serve to marginalize and alienate persons on the basis of real or perceived difference rooted in individualizing medico-clinical knoweldges of impairment.
Narrative accounts may demonstrate the edges of everyday routine life, "edges that are good to think with". For Titchkosky (2012) Disability studies inquiry may benefit from narrative approaches that seek to re-enter stories from obvious problems to de-naturalize them. Narrative inquiry in disability studies also needs to "find ways to locate self and others as part of the story…[and] nurture an expanded self of human community by telling complex, unexpected stories." Friendship provides this catalyst; it enters stories and provides connectivity, it engages the self and other, and demonstrates disability as fluid. When friends encounter barriers they do so together, each having unique experiences of alienation, and also an allied togetherness in the face of adversity and societal marginalization. Friendship transcends the ability/disability binary and puts forth something all together different. Friendship binds individuals together and compels friends to think and act in these liminal in-between spaces. Friendship has the potential to be enabling and work against negative attitudes, alienating forces, behaviours and vehicles of societal oppression. Thus, friendship, much like the field of disability studies also posits an ethic for undertaking disability-related inquiry (Tillmann-Healy, 2003). Titchkosky (2012) urges disability studies scholars to 'stay put' in instances of social oppression, to examine these oppressive structures and to analyse disability as being apart from a problem, re-envisioning disability and not treating it as a problem but a place of knowing. Friendship is a collective empowering stance in the face of oppression and adversity from which we can stay put together.
From September 2011 to September 2012, Mark and Dan used email correspondence and face to face discussions with written journaling to discuss past events and reflect on their experiences as friends in university settings. The idea to write a paper on the politics of friendship and disability emerged as a central theme common to many external experiences. We reflected on our friendship and institutional experiences in university settings using a theoretic lens informed by Critical Disability Studies (see Goodley, 2005).
The emails and journals were coded using constant comparative analysis (Willis, 2007) where inductive categorical themes emerged from the data (Patton, 1990). The rationale for choosing themes did not come from existing literature, as most existing disability-related-friendship research is largely rooted in pathologizing, medicalizing, individualizing conceptualizations of disability. The themes which emerged as most salient in our emails and discussions were hand-coded and we found that four over-arching themes accurately captured and resonated with the data, thereby creating avenues for counter-narratives against existing research. Grounding data in friendship meant unpacking experiences through this onto-epistemological lens. Thus, we returned to our friendship to make sense of these lived experiences and unpack their meanings through thematic coding. We organized the data, identified categories, and sought thematic links between categories. Through the lens of friendship, we then developed our broader explanations around the categories and their interrelationships. The following themes emerged as salient: allied experiences, moving/mobile experiences, disclosing experiences, and experiences of inclusion/exclusion. Coding occurred during the months of October 2012-December 2012. Returning to the themes, particular events were discussed as being of interest, these accounts were chosen as they represented important narrative discussions for Mark and Dan which in our opinion reveal the ways in which friendship was judged and made to be political in university contexts, times and places. The following themed sections unpack our woven narratives.
"You're such a good friend": Allied identity
Our friendship in the academy was made to be political on several occasions. We reflect on these occasions and discuss the implications of our friendship made political. When we moved, we moved together:
On campus we would walk together, talking and laughing as we moved. We would attend the university campus bar together where it was common for us to move as a team. Sometimes we would strike up conversations with other people, asking them to name as many types of stands as they could: "music stand, taco stand, ice-cream stand, hand stand, band stand, hot dog stand, keg stand". Together we came up with at least a double-digit list. We drank, talked, and navigated the tightly packed bar crowds together. Inebriated and moving together we went to the washroom and we heard a male student around our age proclaim, "You're such a good friend." It was directed at one of us. "He's such a good friend" (speaking in reference to Dan) Mark responded. As a team we both took offense, having our friendship measured as imbalanced and unidirectional was misguided, incorrect, and inadequate. We spoke to each other, "ah…don't worry he doesn't know us" "What an asshole!!!"We debriefed. "What do you think he meant by that?"
After discussing the event we concluded that the student thought Mark was the 'good' friend and had negative perceptions about Dan's impairment and visible blindness. It was also apparent that he made assumptions about the nature of our friendship, perhaps perceiving our friendship as one founded on dependency and not interdependency, among other assumptions. How can we theorize about such events, and what might a critical disability studies informed approach centered on friendship offer for inquiry and as a space of inquiry? The part that is of interest is not so much the comment or intent of the comment. Instead, as a team we want to unpack this message and related discourses informing this comment. The intention was for the statement to be flattering, to compliment the visibly 'able-bodied' half of our team. The related discourses are ones that frame the absence of vision and the lived experience of blindness as a medical impairment of deficiency, and resulting in dependency where the need of "a good friend" —- an able-bodied (visibly perceived) individual to be a companion and guide —- enters. Here the washroom became a political space, a space where our friendship was made political, inscribed in the institutional medico-clinically informed socio-spatial discourses demonstrating the politics of disability. The washroom was a private space, a closed space where this comment could be made with less noise. It was a direct encounter with ableism. We were caught off guard by the deliberate nature of this statement and this dude's unabashed approach. Without knowing either one of us, he claimed in one sentence to know the nature of our friendship. He judged our relationship, measured our capacities, functionalities, abilities, and divided our friendship making a normalizing judgment and labelling Mark as able-bodied and Dan as disabled. We took offense. But after taking offense, we discussed this event, we debriefed, we spoke about how to approach such situations, how to deal with like-minded, narrowly-minded, perhaps even ignorant individuals.
Friendship represented the safe space for us to introspectively and critically examine societal beliefs and understand able-bodied privilege as it played out in everyday life. We resisted this re-inscription of the binary division attempt to label and categorize us as able-bodied/disabled, normal/abnormal. We learned that together we could actively resist being labeled, categorized, and constituted as disabled subjects to find ways to navigate the university terrain together. Ultimately, we learned more about ourselves, thereby strengthening our resolve and friendship. We actively chose to exist in liminal spaces, where we blurred the abled/disabled lines. In different spaces, times, and contexts, we sometimes experienced disabling attitudes, structures, and conditions. Other times — such as when we are playing piano together or having graduate student wine and cheese study parties —- we do not experience disability in the same ways if at all. We do not deny bodily, sensory, emotional or cognitive differences between us: they exist and are visible and embodied. What matters most is how we understand these differences to build a deeper understanding of the world and other individuals in society. Friendship is thus a lens through which we may examine able-bodied privilege in critical ways and also reflexively discuss disability in various times, spaces, and contexts as a complex lived and embodied experience. The critical analytic space of friendship shifts thinking from disability as a problem to disability as possibility.
Movement and mobility: Questions of access
Mobility and movement were important considerations in our daily lived experience. Together we had our own pace as we walked, bumped, strolled, and ran our way through the academy. Our movement moved others. It moved them to look at us. Moved them to talk about us, moved them to move to us, and often move from us. We observed and discussed the movement of others. Ten minutes time was sufficient for Mark on most instances to make it from one end of the campus to attend a scheduled class at the other, but for Mark the desire to move at this pace was not there. For Dan, movement felt more mediated by other people's movement, physical obstacles or barriers in the built landscape, winter and environmental conditions. Either way, for both of us ten minutes was hardly enough time to get from one class to another across the university campus.
We sometimes would navigate the university campus by actively using a mobility aid, a white aluminum light-weight cane with red reflective paint and black rubberized grip. We say we, because we did. It was ours, it came out at particular instances, times where we knew it increased our visibility. We used it to signal and announce, we are here, we are moving, we are clinking it against surfaces and objects to make sounds. Tap tap, bang, clink clink, wack, thwack, chick, ding, ding, BANG! We announced our presence. Dan would use it alone to navigate unfamiliar environments. Many times when we were moving together, the cane would leave making us less visible, stealthier. Mark would hold the cane at times and Dan would guide movement. When it snowed the campus changed, it was a challenge to navigate with snowy paths. Sometimes the floors would be washed and a wet floor sign would be blocking a doorway. When tiles were raised the cane made a different sound and felt different, carpets too. Some doors on campus had Braille, others did not. Physical access was uneven for the members of our team, together when we moved we found ways to even this out.
Through shared experiences moving through university spaces we learned about each other's particular bodily movements. We learned how we affectively sensed and felt our ways through the world. We moved as a team in educational spaces and navigated barriers. Together we were able to navigate through or around physical barriers in university settings with more ease than had we tried to go it alone. We realized that spatio-temporal norms and expectations, such as the ten minutes allotted to navigate from one end of the campus to another, might advantage certain movers and disable persons on campus with mobility issues. Or to state this in a different way, there was sufficient time for some individuals to make it across campus to their classes, but we concluded through our discussions that moving certain distances in our university landscape's uneven terrains was not the same experience for all students. We developed a critical understanding of accessibility as a fluid, complex, relational concept that is perpetually mediated and negotiated between social actors in dynamically lived environments. In university settings, people experience access issues and encounter barriers to access in complex and different ways.
Bunnell et al. (2012) assert: "Friendships are also productive of lived spatialities that can confer or deny particular freedoms, fears and possibilities" (p.491). In this way, interactions between friends may reveal nuances about movement and mobility in institutional spaces, the ways spaces are produced, and productive and the subsequent ways these spaces influence and shape experiences of disability. Bunnell et al. (2012) add that: "Whether contained by, or cutting across, conventional categories of social identity…friendships are both produced through, and productive of, geographies of various kinds" (p.495). Friendship is thus an analytic lens through which socio-spatial experiences may be discussed in new ways. Research of this nature, drawing on disability and friendship in university settings also has the potential to shed new light on university institutional disability-related access policies.
Hiding depression and coming out depressed: Discussing disclosure
Mark came to know disability differently through depression as a psychiatric condition, one that was temporal, concealable and somewhat treatable for Mark through medical/pharmaceutical interventions. We discussed psychiatric disability and mental health issues. For Mark, depression represented an individual experience that nearly everyone claimed to know, yet it was virtually invisible on campus. People would say," I feel depressed, I'm depressed today". For Mark, depression impacted memory, desire to socialize, eating and sleeping habits, feelings of body pain and deep stress, a weakened immune system, anxiety, displeasure and discontent. Mark often identified as abled-bodied while experiencing depression. He did not disclose depression to university professors, disability office workers, tutorial leaders, family members and most friends. Dan was an exception.
Our friendship involves taking risks, trusting one another, sharing in life's joys, and discussing future goals and desires. As a team we make decisions, talk them over, and discuss the possible consequences of our actions. Mark decided to write about his experiences with depression in higher education; Dan supported this decision, asking only once: "are you sure?"
"You're fine, snap out of it. Get out of bed. Stop being so lazy, change your attitude. Just be positive. What's wrong with you?" Mark encountered comments of this nature often from those closest to him. Others perhaps saw Mark in a state of general malaise but never fully knowing the extent to which Mark was experiencing depression. The academy was a difficult place to move. Winter on campus was cold and although classes were not far in terms of distance, even getting out of residence for food at the campus student residence cafeteria proved difficult absent motivation and desire. Mark skipped numerous classes and crash studied for exams often asking another student to borrow class notes. Assignments were completed but often handed in after the due date, causing Mark to incur numerous late penalties. Mark would skip tutorials and forego participation marks if they were offered as incentive to encourage attendance. In many ways Mark's experiences with depression were invisible. For Dan, Mark's depression was quite apparent.
In this way, depression was a hidden dimension of Mark's university life. Most individuals in the academy, including professors, administrative staff, and many class peers sometimes asked to collaborate on group projects were unaware of Mark's experiences with depression. Dan knew well and provided support and friendship. His counselling and guidance allowed Mark to navigate and negotiate the institutional terrain: course policies and communications with instructors, to move when Mark had no desire to move and get through crowds when crowds were too much. Most people in the academy likely thought and assumed that it was Mark who was guiding and directing movement of Mark and Dan as a pair in tandem. The truth, our truth was that Dan encouraged Mark to move with depression and we moved through the university together.
Questioning inclusion: Re-examining examinations
University examinations were a divided experience for Mark and Dan. We had unique and very different experiences with examinations. Mark would often write final undergraduate studies course examinations in a large hall with numerous student desks: at least 50 and often 400 or more. It was a sea of anxious faces. In the hallways there was always a clamour as the nervous students jostled notes going over whatever could be read/crammed in the few minutes before the large gymnasium converted into an examination hall.
Mark: It was a stressful environment. Sometimes the examination hall was cold or too hot, the seats were uncomfortable. It was hard to focus. The clock was visible and time was passing too quickly, timing concerns were forefront. A pen or calculator would drop on the floor; someone would be clicking their pen. What was I going to write again…? "I had it, now I forgot what I was going to write?" Dan: Far from a universal academic experience, we experienced exams differently. I remember writing exams on my own, in a spacious room with a computer with screen-reader. I had no or limited access to the instructor and found it difficult to ask questions. The spatial, temporal, and environmental constraints that other able-bodied students commonly relate were not present — or were differently present. Team: We had different experiences of exams. Although it seemed that Dan was accommodated (private room, assistive technology) in reality the space was both accommodating and non-accommodating. Mark and Dan later discussed our experiences writing exams. It became clear that Dan was denied the experience of a stressful examination hall, the shared nervousness with his peers waiting in the hallway before entering the large gymnasium, the availability of exam announcements, and the general process and procedures surrounding the lore of university exam-writing. Friendship revealed the contrasting experiences we had and how an accommodation aimed at promoting inclusion became an alienating, marginalizing and exclusionary practice. We were spatially separated and placed in different examination rooms. We felt duped by the façade of inclusion and access.
Our friendship in this way became a lens through which we were able to critically examine socio-spatially exclusionary university policies and practices regarding the provision of academic accommodations and services. Institutions such as universities engender disability discourses and may materialize dis/ablism and impairment in such educational institutions (Goodley, 2011). Disabled students ultimately need to be involved, consulted and provided viable options when developing plans for accommodation in their education.
Friendship is a way to negotiate complex terrains of viewpoints that may at times conflict and contrast. Our friendship became deepened through inward reflexivity to clarify our onto-epistemological positions and develop shared understandings and knowledges relating to dis/ability. As a team, our inward discussions, arguments, conversations about disability/disablement shaped our viewpoints and strengthened our resolve towards others who may not have shared our views — mainly that societal norms, attitudes, behaviours and structures are sources fostering the disablement of individuals. We actively challenge the notion that friendship is a gift bestowed to disabled people by able-bodied individuals. Through dialogue and critical introspection we refined our views, developed tactics and strategies to deal with negative attitudes, navigated through physical barriers, and advanced our shared goals and interests. Encounters with negative attitudes were responded to with opportunities for introspection and occasions to talk about issues, societal structures, beliefs and affronts to friendship. In times where we encountered negative attitudes or social barriers we worked against these forces using humour to diffuse situations and found ways to challenge limiting beliefs.
There is a need for more research drawing on critical onto-epistemological theories and methodological frameworks. Friendship represents an important analytic reflexive lens which can be used to examine the ways disability is understood and treated in various realms. Narrative accounts of friendship and disability such as these fill a gap in existing literature by providing much needed perspectives of persons with disabilities in university settings. The voices, experiences and knowledges of persons with disabilities may inform increasingly inclusionary university policies and practices.
In this paper, friendships liberate new spaces and possibilities for thought and action, and open avenues to think otherwise. Derrida (2005) quoting Cicero states:
For the man who keeps his eye on a true friend, keeps it, so to speak, on a model of himself (tamquam exemplar aliquod intuetur sui). For this reason, friends are together when they are separated, they are rich when they are poor, strong when they are weak (et imbecilli valent), and — a thing even harder to explain - they live on after they have died (mortui vivunt)… (p.5)
Friendship represents a lens through which one may examine oneself where one's beliefs, attitudes, and actions are perpetually held to a certain standard arbitrated by relations of friendship. Friendship provides a means of thinking about disability as occupying a societal space between individuals. For Mark and Dan, friendship represents a critical analytic space, method(ological) site of and for inquiry, and place of empowerment.
In the space of friendship, dis/ability is negotiated, questioned, and (re)examined. According to Goodley (2005), "disability breaks down when we start to scrutinise it…Disability speaks of society: being disabled is not simply a descriptor of an object — a person with a cane — but a social process that intimately involves everyone who has a body and lives in the world of senses" (p.10). Friendship represents a site to interrogate disability and able-bodiedness as they are personally understood. Friendships may demonstrate how lived experiential realities associated with disability may starkly contrast with the ways in which dominant societal attitudes and norms often constitute disabled individuals as in need of fixing. It represents a platform from which disabled/able-bodied individuals may engage in disability-related equity politics, advocacy, and activism to reject understandings of disability as a personal tragedy and resist related practices limiting the full societal participation/inclusion of disabled persons.
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