Occasional Paper Series #47

On Turning Tables, Hubris, and Humility: Reflecting Upon Carol Rogers-Shaw’s “Disabled Lives & Pandemic Lives: Stories of Human Precarity”

by David J. Connor

What can be learned about the pandemic through the lens of disability, and conversely, what can we come to know about disability through the COVID-19 pandemic? Rogers-Shaw contemplates these reciprocal questions in a highly original essay that is wide in scope. After thinking about how to best describe the experience of reading her work, the word “wondrous” came to mind, as the essay is both delightful and powerful.

Why? Because she examines and explores what has recently concerned many of us in education, that is, the pandemic’s impact upon the lives of both teachers and students with and without disabilities. We have heard all kinds of stories in social media (Selwyn, 2020), along with formal reports (Barbour, 2021) and journal articles on the crest of an anticipated wave of information (Osofsky et al., 2020). Still, we don’t yet have a cohesive, substantial body of knowledge that makes sense of the pandemic’s ongoing impact on education in the United States and around the world. Amid these scary and confusing times, Rogers-Shaw has given us useful ways to (re)consider dis/ability in light of the pandemic, and vice versa, illustrating shortcomings of society at large and education in particular, while offering some possibilities for much-needed change.

In “Disabled Lives & Pandemic Lives: Stories of Human Precarity,” the author uses herself as a prism through which to view many of the interconnected issues COVID-19 has raised. The professional and personal experiences of Rogers-Shaw, a lifelong teacher of students identified as disabled who has managed her own disability of Type 1 diabetes since she was 20 years old, inform her perspectives about human differences. Her goal in this essay is to turn the tables on the reader, making clear “how a life with disabilities can uniquely equip [all of] us to live with precarity and to offer insights to others for whom a profound sense of precarity is a new experience.” In other words, she uses disability as a teaching tool that possesses epistemological value—a phenomenon that most people, including traditional scholars within the field of special education, don’t recognize.

About the Author

David J. ConnorDavid J. Connor, EdD, is a professor emeritus of Hunter College (Learning Disabilities Program) and the Graduate Center (Urban Education Program), City University of New York. He has published numerous articles, book chapters, and books. His most recent publications include two co-edited books, How Teaching Shapes Our Thinking About Disabilities: Stories from the Field (2021, with Beth Ferri) and Disability Critical Race Theory Expanded: Inquiries, Reverberations & Ruptures (2022, with Subini Annamma and Beth Ferri).