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

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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.

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