Student Reflection – Paulo Freire and a Manifesto for Disability Pedagogy (11.1)

By Taylor Hein, Chapman University

The process of building this site and its content was one of the most rewarding academic and personal experiences of my undergraduate career. The depth of its meaning to me is grounded in my growth as a scholar and activist. As a freshman in college, I was diagnosed with two chronic illnesses, lupus and fibromyalgia. I never expected to become a part of the disability community, let alone at such a young age. When I started looking for a community of others on campus like me, there was no such club or organization. So, I started The Spoonies, a student-led club to support those with chronic illnesses. As we discussed our experiences with the university as an institution, those in the medical profession, and even our family and friends, we found deep commonalities. As young people who are disabled, we endure assumptions and criticisms everyday about our conditions. Our experiences with discrimination and ableism have taught us that we must always fight to be advocates for ourselves. Over the course of a year, we became a community of activists and advocates. This evolution prompted me to wonder if becoming activists could have been more effective if we had access to some type of supplementary course or source of information which taught us how to fight for ourselves and for others.

As The Spoonies grew, I started to become more interested in learning about the disability rights movement and even added Disability Studies as a second minor. I became empowered by what I learned about my community and sought to integrate my passion for disability history and the modern disability rights movement with my studies in critical theory and rhetoric as an English Literature major. I became deeply invested in producing work which synthesized my passions and gave me a better understanding of my own identity and the world around me. This is what led me to take ENG 446/500 Topics in Rhetoric: Freire-Dialogue, Praxis, and Education, and to produce my Google site. As our class conducted an in-depth study of Paulo Freire’s work, I understood the necessity of the intersection of scholarship and activism.

One of the essential Freirean concepts that Dr. Osborn, our course instructor, taught us and that is also embedded in this project is that we must read the word and the world. This includes considering the socio-historical contexts in which Freire was writing, and the socio-historical contexts in which we are reading. To do so fully, we must engage in a critical pedagogy that contains both reflection and action. You cannot have true pedagogy without either. When I applied this concept to my own life, I knew that those both in my club and outside of it needed a guided resource by which they could begin to engage in the world as activists for the disability community.

Using Freire as my springboard, I began creating and designing a site for critical disability pedagogy. My decision to make this project multimodal was driven by a desire to use the technology of my socio-historical reality to engage audiences on the levels of both media and text. I intend this digital format to make Freirean concepts accessible and interactive, and thus to enhance the reception of his work to produce greater activism for the community. I hope that those who interact with the project do so meaningfully, and that they leave the site with a desire to engage more critically in the world around them as I have as a result of creating it.