Barriers and Belonging: Personal Narratives of Disability

By Donaldson, Elizabeth J. | Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies, January 1, 2019 | Go to article overview

Barriers and Belonging: Personal Narratives of Disability


Donaldson, Elizabeth J., Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies


Michelle Jarman, Leila Monaghan, and Alison Quaggin Harkin, eds, Barriers and Belonging: Personal Narratives of Disability. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2017. Paperback ISBN: 13 978-1-4399-1388-8. $39.95. 296pp.

Barriers and Belonging: Personal Narratives of Disability edited by Michelle Jarman, Leila Monaghan, and Alison Quaggin Harkin, is a collection of accessible and engaging autobiographical essays about the disability experience. With many essays running at close to six pages, they are perfectly proportioned for undergraduate classes, and the collection might easily be adopted as a text for composition classes or used as an introduction to disability studies or autobiographical writing. What ties many of these essays together is the consciousness-raising effect of reading disability studies scholarship in the college classroom. Contributors cite Simi Linton, Rosemary Garland-Thomson, Ellen Samuels, Lennard J. Davis, Tanya Titchkosky, Fiona Kumari Campbell, and others. As contributor Zachary A. Richter writes, "What Campbell gave me was a language by which to articulate my experiences" (49). Garrett R. Cruzan similarly notes, "Disability studies was providing a new language for the new life I was experiencing" (161). Through these narratives, disabled students and others reading this collection can witness how disability theory becomes disability consciousness and activism. As Monaghan writes in the Afterword, "the stories of ordinary people coping with the complications of disabilities are powerful ways to learn about disabilities" (277). There is something for just about everyone in Barriers and Belonging and collectively the essays are a powerful argument for an inclusive disability community.

The anthology is organized into six parts: Laying the Groundwork; Families, Adaptive Living, and Reorienting Expectations; Disability and Communication; Mapping Complex Relations; Identity, Resistance, and Community; and Theories and Lives. The Introduction, written by Jarman and Monaghan, sketches out the history of disability access and secondary education and provides a quick course in some foundational and emerging disability concepts such as medical and social models of disability, stigma, the normate, and bodymind. Each of the six sections also has its own introduction that previews the individual essays and provides explanations of relevant concepts, as well as several broad discussion questions to accompany the readings. Each section's introduction also ends with "Suggestions for Related Readings," which includes links to connected essays in other parts of the anthology, as well as more discussion questions. These features make the collection especially studentand instructor-friendly.

While maintaining a focus on secondary education and the transformative experience of disability studies classes, Barriers and Belonging includes a wide range of contributors from diverse backgrounds, with different kinds of disabilities. For example, Rodney B. Hume Dawson describes growing up with poliomyelitis in Sierra Leone ("Flourishing with Polio: A Spiritual, Transformational, and Disability Studies Perspective," 237-44); Blake Culley, who identifies as transgender, describes growing up deaf in a hearing family in California ("ASL in a Hearing World," 110-15); and African-American veteran Rachel Anderson recounts her disabling Baghdad war injury and her difficulties obtaining proper treatment and benefits from Veterans Affairs after her return home ("Brother and Sister in Arms," 169-73). …

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