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Both Sides of the Table

Autoethnographies of Educators Learning and Teaching With/In [Dis]ability


Edited By Philip Smith

Both Sides of the Table is a set of evocative, heartfelt, personal, and revealing stories, told by educators about how their experiences with disability, personally and in the lives of family members, has affected their understanding of disability. It uses disability studies and critical theory lenses to understand the autoethnographies of teachers and their personal relationships with disability. The book takes a beginning look at the meaning of autoethnography as a method of inquiry, as well as how it has been (and will be) applied to exploring disability and the role of education in creating and sustaining it. The title refers to the context in which educators find themselves in Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings for students with disabilities in schools. There, educators often sit on the other side of the table from people with disabilities, their families, and their allies. In these chapters, the authors assume roles that place them, literally, on both sides of IEP tables. They inscribe new meanings – of relationships, of disability, of schools, of what it means to be an educator and a learner. It is a proposal (or perhaps a gentle manifesto) for what research, education, disability, and a utopian revolutionary politics of social transformation could and should look like.
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Chapter 11: “That’s OK. They Are Beautiful Children,” by Kathleen Kotel


Growing up, I lived across the street from a little girl with long dark hair who was a year or two older than me—and also blind. I never played with her, not because I did not want to. I did. I was never given the opportunity. Her mother did not allow or encourage her to play with the children in the neighborhood, while her older and younger brother participated in many of the neighborhood games and activities. Whenever I asked my mother about the little girl, and why she did not play with me or the other kids in the neighborhood or attend the same school that I did, she usually responded with a comment regarding her blindness. She would say something along the lines of, “Well she is blind and blind kids go to school for blind children.” In doing so, she inadvertently passed on the notion that children with disabilities are not normal and do not belong in mainstream society. My mother was always quick to change the subject too. We never had a discussion about my neighbor’s disability, nor did she encourage me to have a play date or a relationship with her. Her blindness was an unspoken subject, something to avoid.

I began to formulate mostly unconscious beliefs about normalcy and disability: Being blind means one is different, not normal, not like everyone else. Being different (blind) means one lives in a neighborhood, but one doesn’t play with the other children who are...

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