Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!


jmorgant's picture

Redefining Difference: The Emergence of the Disability Movement

My interest in the disability movement was generated by our class discussions on the meanings and constructions of disability. Along with Interdisciplinary Gender and Sexuality Studies, I am currently taking a class at Haverford called Social Movement Theory, where we have discussed how and why movements emerge under certain conditions. Throughout the course of my research on the disability movement, I found that three phenomena were pivotal in accounting for its emergence, expansion, and relative success: organizers managed to build broad and diverse coalitions, garner the support of influential political elites, and spark vast changes in consciousness.

Scholars vary in their estimations of the time period during which the disability movement emerged. The first legislation relating specifically to the disabled was passed after World War I in order to accommodate wounded soldiers returning from Europe. However, a flurry of legislation and organizing activity did not surface until the 1970s alongside other social movements in the United States. The first significant piece of legislation was the 1973 Vocational Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 of the bill read,

“No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States, shall solely be reason of his handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Katie Randall's picture

Medical Authority in the Discourses of Disability and Transsexuality

Medical Authority in the Discourses of Disability and Transsexuality


Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness and Liberation is an impossibly far-ranging book. Its author Eli Clare covers many topics that are entangled within his own life: tensions of class, sexuality, gender, abuse, disability, environmentalism and exile. Here I want to use his discussion of the medicalization of disability as a springboard to approach Rachel Ann Heath’s description of the pathologization of transsexuality in The Praeger Handbook of Transsexuality: Changing Gender to Match Mindset. Medicalization and pathologization are not precisely equivalent terms, but to me both represent a process of delegitimizing their subjects and placing this lost authority into the hands of medical professionals. Both produce negative or limiting effects that are not widely acknowledged. In addition, both are oriented towards “curing” or “normalizing” difference.


Exile and Pride: disability history

AmyMay's picture

Diffracting and Entangling System-Correcting Praxis

Diffracting and Entangling System-Correcting Praxis

            In my post from week 4, I posited a question to the class: what place do diffraction and entanglement have in practices of system-correcting praxis?  Are the concepts diametrically opposed?  To answer this question, it is necessary to delve deeper into the theoretical and functional foundations of correcting vs. system challenging praxis.  Only by understanding the problems inherent to these types of activism can we utilize diffraction and entanglement to improve their implementation.  Integrating processes of diffraction and entanglement into system correcting activism offers a way to prevent the passive subscription to existing systems of power inequality and reduce the disabling nature of enabling acts.

chelseam's picture

Claiming the Stare: Jes Sachse and the Transformative Potential of Seeing

                                 Claiming the Stare: Jes Sachse and the Transformative Potential of Seeing

                                       American Able - Holly Norris                     "Crooked" Tattoo


  We all love to look. While staring is most commonly thought of as an act to be avoided or ashamed of, Disability and Women’s Studies Scholar Rosemarie Garland-Thomson argues that the stare at its best actually has the potential to create new meanings and more open societies.  The stare as Thomson defines it, has the potential to help us redefine the language we use to describe each other and ourselves, create space for the often-excluded in communities, and craft our own identities. The stare is most dynamic and productive when the subject of the stare, the staree, is able to wield some control over the interaction and in doing so present their story to the starer.

Amophrast's picture

(In)visibility with Sex, Gender, and (Dis)ability: Correcting Images

"I think being invisible is the only superpower that doesn't have a downside."

Someone said this to me as I was working on this webpaper, trying to construct an argument about queer invisibility and and the invisibilities of disabilities. My thought process crashed to a halt--she hadn't even seen my brainstorming.

"What makes you say that?"

She told me that flight can lead to motion sickness, mind reading can be overwhelming, super strength can cause someone to break another person's bones when simply trying to give them a hug. As far as this goes, I can see how invisibility doesn't have any downfalls.

Except for the fact that you don't exist.

Amophrast's picture

Disability's Affect on Gender

One thing I wanted to talk about: how does disability affect gender in terms of femininity/masculinity? Can disability "ungender" someone?

A specific example I'm thinking of is from the movie "The Best Years of Our Lives" which is about three WWII veterans returning home and trying to adjust to their old lives. One of the veterans lost both of his hands and they are now replaced by hooks (the actor had this happen to him, so they are real and functional). The things the character struggles most with include coming home to his fiancee/newlywed wife and feeling inadequate in terms of not being able to do certain things for himself. One of his most vulnerable scenes is near the end of the movie when the wife takes off her husband's hooks and helps him get into his pajamas. One could argue that in this movie, the veteran is metaphorically castrated by his disability. His performance of gender roles is inhibited by his disability, thus ungendering him in both the world around him and in his own mind.

Problems: world is constructed for gendered people. World is constructed for able-bodied people.

There is nothing "wrong" about being ungendered or having a disability, but in many cases people with disabilities are seen as being ungendered or nonsexual (or in some cases, hypersexualized). I have not seen much of people trying to assert their masculinity/femininity over their disability, except in the case of this blog owner:

An Active Mind's picture

Alison Bechdel's Fun Home - Repetitions of Disability & Queerness

I'm particularly interested in exploring Alison Bechdel's (2006) Fun Home in the context of my independent study because it explores issues of both disability (Bechdel has suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD since the age of 10) and also queerness (both Alison and her father are gay).  

Alison Bechdel, Fun Home

An Active Mind's picture

Lady Gaga's New Cover Album for "Born This Way" - Figuring Disability?

 Just yesterday Gaga released the cover of her new album Born This Way:

Lady Gaga's Album Cover for Born This Way

Lady Gaga's Album Cover for Born This Way

An Active Mind's picture

Post Secret: Depersonalization vs. Personalization

Last night, Frank Warren--the founder of Post Secret--spoke at Bryn Mawr. The Post Secret campaign was started in 2005 when Frank had the idea to ask people to write down their secrets on a blank card.  He had two rules: (1) that the secret be truthful and (2) that the secret had never been told to anyone before.  Now Frank receives over 1,000 postcards each week from people all across the country and around the world.  I found his presentation incredibly moving and it reminded me a lot of what was discussed at Haverford's In/Visible Disability conference in relation to visual art and its ability to both empower and disempower.

Seeing Stigma



Alexander McQueen
Spring/Summer 2001 Collection

“We do not know our own souls, let alone the souls of others.  Human beings do not go hand in hand the whole stretch of the way.  There is a virgin forest in each; a snowfield where even the print of birds’ feet is unknown.  Here we must go alone and like it better so.  Always to be accompanied, always to be understood would be intolerable.”

--Virginia Woolf, “On Being Ill”


Syndicate content