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How Teaching Shapes Our Thinking About Disabilities

Stories from the Field

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Edited By David J. Connor and Beth A. Ferri

This book purposefully connects practice to research, and vice versa, through the use of deeply personal stories in the form of autoethnographic memoirs. In this collection, twenty contributors share selected tales of teaching students with dis/abilities in K-12 settings across the USA, including tentative triumphs, frustrating failures, and a deep desire to understand the dynamics of teaching and learning. The authors also share an early awareness of significant dissonance between academic knowledge taught to them in teacher education programs and their own experiential knowledge in schools. Coming to question established practices within the field of special education in relation to the children they taught, each author grew increasingly critical of deficit-models of disability that emphasized commonplace practices of physical and social exclusion, dysfunction and disorders, repetitive remediation and punitive punishments. The authors describe how their interactions with children and youth, parents, and administrators, in the context of their classrooms and schools, influenced a shift away from the limiting discourse of special education and toward become critical special educators and/or engage with disability studies as a way to reclaim, reframe, and reimagine disability as a natural part of human diversity. Furthermore, the authors document how these early experiences in the everydayness of schooling helped ground them as teachers and later, teacher educators, who galvanized their research trajectories around studying issues of access and equality throughout educational structures and systems, while developing new theoretical models within Disability Studies in Education, aimed to impact practices and policies.
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17. Education Is Power: But Only if You Can Get into the Building

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APRIL COUGHLIN

My journey toward Disability Studies (DS) and Disability Studies in Education (DSE) began at the age of six when I was paralyzed in a car accident and became a life-long wheeler. As an adult, I proudly identify as disabled, but this was not always the case. While I have used a chair for most of my life, it was during college and as a teacher when I began to take ownership of that identity. Daily encounters with issues of access, inclusion, and exclusion have not only shaped my embodiment of disability, but also the work that I do through teaching, research, and advocacy.

Growing up, I attended an accommodating school district without even knowing that inclusion was (and still is) not afforded to everyone. It was not until I began teaching in New York City (NYC) public schools that I even fathomed a school may not be accessible for all to enter through the front door together. However, even within this mostly inclusive school experience, there were non-inclusive elements. I rode the “special bus” or “short bus” as this was the only wheelchair accessible option for transportation in our town. I remember being fond of the bus driver, but hating the experience of getting on and off the bus and the loud electric motor and intense buzzing sound as the lift elevated me from the sidewalk into the bus. Facing sideways, my chair was secured to the floor with a metal bar through the...

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