Occasional Paper Series

Issue 47
Disabled Lives and Pandemic Lives: Stories of Human Precarity


by Gail Boldt

The idea for Carol Rogers-Shaw’s essay began in April 2020, six weeks into the initial COVID-19 lockdown, at her Zoom-based PhD dissertation defense. Carol’s dissertation brought together a narration of her life as a person with a disability and her work as a high school teacher of students with identified disabilities, conceptualized and reconceptualized through the lens of critical disability studies.

Carol’s dissertation was a thing of beauty, simultaneously moving and critical, hopeful and angry, vulnerable and clear-eyed. Listening to her defense while sitting in my dining room in that strange Zoom space that seemed able to be everywhere but at the same time nowhere, I became aware of a powerful resonance between the experiences many of us were struggling with in the COVID-19 pandemic and Carol’s description of receiving her diagnosis at the age of 20. Feelings of loss, fear, and frustration and the need to remake life in the face of unexpected limitations felt all too familiar.

Although at that time I could not imagine that we would be in the grip of COVID-19 two years later, Carol’s voice, I realized, was one that could help us to make some sense of the confusing emotions brought about by the pandemic and to think in broader, more caring, and more inclusive ways about education. Carol’s work, both in her dissertation and now, for us, in Issue #47 of the Bank Street Occasional Paper Series, provides a realist’s telling of how we make a life—a good life—even in the face of things we did not want or never imagined or asked for. She asks us to consider how we reconcile ourselves to the fact that we cannot always get or be what we want, but how that can also lead us to moments of empathy, connection, insight, and grace.

Carol’s essay, “Disabled Lives and Pandemic Lives: Stories of Human Precarity,” along with three response essays by four notable disability studies scholars—David Connor, Scott Danforth, and (writing collaboratively) Tonette Rocco and Debaro Huyler—make up the entirety of Issue #47. Publishing a single essay along with a few short responses has precedent in the Occasional Paper Series (see Issue #29 and Issue #24, for example). We do this when the author has something to say that needs significant space to develop fully and when it is a piece worth our long consideration.

Read the Full Essay (pdf) Full PDF of OPS #47

Senior Editor

Gail Boldt is a distinguished professor in the College of Education at the Pennsylvania State University in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. She is on the undergraduate reading and elementary education faculty and is the professor in charge of the PhD emphasis in Language, Culture, and Society. Gail is also a clinical psychotherapist and a fellow in the College of Research Fellows of the American Psychoanalytic Association. Her research focuses on how studies of affect drawn from both Deleuzo- Guattarian and relational psychoanalytic sources can inform the creation of classrooms in which students and teachers experience vitality. She is the senior editor of the Bank Street Occasional Paper Series.

Gail Boldt