Conceptualizing the “Dis” of Our Abilities: A Heuristic Phenomenology

Main Article Content

Jamie Buffington-Adams


curriculum, phenomenology, standardization


Social conceptions of disabilities rely on a positivist construction of a singular common normalcy which allows for the other-ing and subsequent devaluing of individuals who fall outside of that norm.  Such devaluing and marginalization begins with and is evidenced in the very label disability and continues down a linguistically slippery slope of deviance and abnormalities until those being labeled as disabled can easily be conceived of as less than fully human.  Nowhere, perhaps, is this phenomenon more poignantly played out than in schools, the very places that, ironically, purport to leave no child behind.

Guided by the voice of a character living with cerebral palsy and through the auspices of a heuristic phenomenology, I describe how my students and I, as individuals labeled with disabilities, experience, understand, and negotiate our differences within the confines of an education system rife with the pressures of standardization.  In doing so, I shed light on the ways in which standardization dehumanizes individuals with differences, and I attempt to recapture my students’ full humanity.

Abstract 178 | PDF Downloads 88 Word Downloads 41 Text Downloads 55


Becker, H. (1963). Outsiders: Studies in the sociology of deviance. New York: Free Press.

Bejoian, L., & Reid, D. (2005). A disabilities studies perspective on the Bush education agenda: No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Equity & Excellence in Education, 38(3), pp. 220-231.

Du Bois, W. E. B. (1989). The souls of Black folk. Boston, MA: Bedford Books. (Original work published 1903)

Gallagher, D. (2006). The natural hierarchy undone: Disability studies’ contributions to contemporary debates in education. In S. Danforth & S. Gabel (Eds.), Vital questions facing disability studies in education. New York: Peter Lang.

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group. (Original work published 1970)

Hehir, T. (2005). Eliminating ableism in education. In L. Katzman, A. Gandhi, W. Harbour, & J. D. LaRock (Eds.), Special education for a new century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Educational Review.

Linton, S. (1998). Claiming disability: Knowledge and identity. New York: NYU Press.

Moustakas, C. (1994). Phenomenological Research Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Oliver, M. (1998). Disability research: Politics, policy and praxis. Paper presented at the University of Greenwich, November 20-22, 1998.

Oswald, D. P., & Coutinho, M. J. (2007). On disaggregating disability, whatever that means. In J. B. Crockett, M. M. Gerber, & T. J. Landrum (Eds.), Achieving the radical reform of special education: Essays in honor of James M. Kauffman (pp. 5–14). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Patton, M. (2002). Qualitative research and evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Pinar, W. (1994). Autobiography, politics and sexuality: Essays in curriculum theory 1972-1992. J. Kincheloe & S. Steinberg (Eds.). New York: Peter Lang.

Smith, P. (2006). Split------ting the ROCK of {speci[ES]al} e.ducat.ion: FLOWers of lang[ue]age in >DIS
Solis, S., & Connor, D. (2006). Theory meets practice: Disability studies and person narratives in school. In S. Danforth & S. Gabel (Eds.), Vital questions facing disability studies in education. New York: Peter Lang.

Trueman, T. (2000). Stuck in neutral. New York: HarperCollins.