Disability Studies Quarterly Blog
Book and Media
Review by Sav Schlauderaff, University of Arizona, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Keywords: disability narrative; disability memoir; representation
About Us (2019), an essay collection edited by Peter Catapano and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, compiles essays published as part of the Disability Series in the New York Times, started in 2016. These essays touch on family, relationships, history, discrimination, disclosure, and community – and how their disabilities impact these areas of their lives. Compiling these essays into a book has created a space for these perspectives to intermingle with each other and emphasizes that there is no singular disability “story” or experience.
The importance of disability narratives has long been central to the field of disability studies through disability memoir, the inclusion of lived experiences in academic work, and through media analysis of disability representation. This importance has reached mainstream recognition through recent media success with Crip Camp (2020), Rising Phoenix (2020), Haben (2019), and Being Heumann (2020). Thus, About Us, aligns with this push for more diverse and expansive disability narratives. The argument and main purpose of About Us is for disabled people to represent themselves through their own stories, to push back against stereotypes created for disabled people, and to start a dialogue about disability, inaccessibility, ableism. This can be seen in the name chosen for the book “About Us”, as a reference to the disability rights slogan “nothing about us, without us”. Additionally, the title points toward the fact that this essay collection contains the words and perspectives from a variety of disabled people, and that there is no singular “disability story”.
More importantly, through dividing this anthology into several sections, the wholeness of disabled people is represented. This pushes against the stereotype that disability automatically equates to suffering, isolation, and a lesser life. However, it isn’t without essayists discussing the inaccessibility and ableism they have experienced; the joy, frustration, love, and loneliness are discussed alongside each other, presenting the multifaceted reality of being disabled.
About Us is perhaps only limited by its source material, being those who had already had their essays published in the New York Times initial column – with the added layer of the authors and potential readers skewing towards the United States. Therefore, certain perspectives or lived experiences are likely to not have been included. However, I argue that this is remedied not by dwelling on these gaps, but through the continued production of disability anthologies and projects, such as Disability Visibility (2020) and Open in Emergency (2016; 2019). As I stated above, About Us is contributing to an existing conversation within academia and, more recently, within mainstream media, about the importance of disabled people telling their own stories.
Where I find About Us to be particularly successful is in its wide range of potential readers. I believe that this success is due to the use of diverse section topics, and therefore, the tone of the essays. For example, a nondisabled person who is unfamiliar with disability activism and history may be most impacted by the sections on “Justice” and “Belonging,” and a nondisabled parent or friend may learn the most from the sections on “Coping” or “Family.” Whereas, as a disabled person, I personally felt more drawn to and represented within the sections on “Love” and “Joy.” Moreover, About Us is well suited for inclusion in course syllabi – as it provides the option for the class to read through the anthology together, moving from disability activism, to conversations on community and support, to the importance of joy for disabled people. The use of the anthology also comes into play in the classroom, as students aren’t just being exposed to a singular memoir, but to experiences and perspectives of nearly 60 disabled people.
About Us presents itself as a text that is well-suited for conversations within university classrooms on the importance of personal narrative and memoir for oppressed people and groups; and is equally suited as a book to recommend to your family, friends, and colleagues. This is to say that About Us provides the ability for each reader to have a unique experience, as well as the ability to spark productive conversations about disability, ableism, and one’s own lived experiences.
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This review was published as part of Disability Studies Quarterly, Spring/Summer 2022.
Beginning with Volume 36, Issue No. 4 (2016), Disability Studies Quarterly is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license unless otherwise indicated.
Disability Studies Quarterly is published by The Ohio State University Libraries in partnership with the Society for Disability Studies.