New book: Living the Edges: A Disabled Women’s Reader

Living the Edges book cover, with a white title on background of an abstract type painting with a road or path and floating spheres of colourHere’s a book for your list, if you’re celebrating a gifty holiday soon – or just splurge on it for yourself!

Living the Edges: A Disabled Women’s Reader, edited by Diane Driedger, was launched last week in Canada, and it should contain plenty of interest for readers of FWD/Forward.

The McNally Robinson book-launch blurb is as follows:

Diane Driedger has written extensively about the issues of women and people with disabilities over the past 30 years. Diane is an educator, administrator, activist, and researcher in the area of disabled women’s issues in Canada and internationally. She is also a visual artist and poet, and holds a Ph.D. in Education. She lives in Winnipeg.

This collection brings together the diverse voices of women with various disabilities, both physical and mental. The women speak frankly about the societal barriers they encounter in their everyday lives due to social attitudes and physical and systemic inaccessibility. They bring to light the discrimination they experience through sexism, because they are women, and through ableism, because they have disabilities. For them, the personal is definitely political.

While society traditionally views having a disability as “weakness” and that women are the “weaker” sex, this collection points to the strength, persistence, and resilience of disabled women living the edges.

A partial contents list, from Disability Research Forum reveals a whole lot of must-read articles:

“Feminism, Disability and Transcendence of the Body” by Susan Wendell

“Living on the Edges” by Charlotte Caron and Gail Christy

“Mirror Woman: Cracked Up Crazy Bitch Conja Identity” by Marie Annharte Baker;

“Margins Are Not For Cowards” by Cheryl Gibson;

“Triple Jeopardy: Native Women with Disabilities” by Doreen Demas

“Coming Out of Two Closets” by Jane Field;

“Performing My Leaky Body” by Julie Devaney

“To Be Or Not to Be? Whose Question Is It, Anyway? Two Women With Disabilities Discuss the Right To Assisted Suicide” by Tanis Doe and Barbara Ladouceu

“Living Poorly: Disabled Women on Income Support” by Sally Kimpson

“‘Have You Experienced Violence or Abuse?’: Talking With Girls and Young Women with Disabilities” by Michelle Owen

“The Geography of Oppression” by Joy Asham

There was an audio interview with Diane Driedger at CBC’s Weekend Morning Show last Sunday, in which Diane speaks of the book and of her experiences with invisible disabilities and workplace accommodations.

My transcript of the Weekend Morning Show interview, titled “Double Jeopardy”, is below the cut. All errors in transcription are mine.

Kerän [host]: Every once in a while, a brand new book appears on my desk, and I’m always keen to break open the envelope and see what a Manitoba author has produced this time. A few days ago, one arrived from Winnipeger Diane Driedger. It’s a compilation of stories from Canadian women. But these women, including Diane, share something in common. They each have a physical or an intellectual disability. The book is called “Living the Edges: A Disabled Women’s Reader”, and in it women write about what it’s like to be different in a world that seems to prefer nothing but normal. Diane Driedger’s on the line now: hi there!

Diane Driedger: Good morning!

Kerän: Well, for those of us who haven’t had a chance to read the entire book, what would you say it’s about? What would you say is in it?

Diane: Well, there are essays, and poems, and art from over forty women from East to West to North here in Canada, and it’s about the barriers that women with disabilities come up against in their daily lives. And most of these are imposed by society. Things like attitudes, that people don’t understand that perhaps you have limitations, especially if you’re a person who has invisible disabilities like myself: people often look at you and say “But you look so good! What do you mean, you need accommodations?” You know?

Kerän: What are your invi- do you mind talking about your invisible – ah

Diane: That’s fine! Yes, I have fibromyalgia, and I’ve had that for eighteen years. And I also have asthma, and I’m a breast cancer survivor, almost five years now. And what a lot of people don’t know is that breast cancer treatment in itself is also disabling to people in different ways. Chemotherapy and radiation is a big assault on the body. But all of these things mean that I have fatigue and chronic pain problems, and of course winter is really the worst time. And so living in Winnipeg you can imagine the barriers that are imposed within the environment here.

Kerän: And if was interesting that I called and said “Are you able to come down?”, and you said “Is it really necessary?” and I said “No, no it’s not necessary to come down, you stay at home” because I think it is hard for you, it is hard for you to get around in the wintertime.

Diane: Oh yes, I was just sitting here waiting for your call thinking “What if I had gone to the studio this morning? I think it’s minus 29 outside

Kerän: Mm hmm

Diane: Yeah. The body is feeling pretty creaky this morning.

Kerän: So’s mine.


Kerän: What do you think have been the most difficult barriers that you’ve experienced?

Diane: I would say, ah, there are a lot of barriers around employment issues. For people with disabilities in general, and for many of us women with disabilities who have invisible conditions it’s very difficult to talk with employers about accommodations and to receive them. Often people are wondering if you’re making up the story because you don’t wanna do work in a certain way. And for me, a barrier is, you know, I cannot sit at a desk nine to five any longer. Just because sitting is my worst position. My best positions are lying down and standing up. And because I do an administrative job, that becomes an issue. But my current employer has made accommodations for me where I work at home in the morning, and a lot of that work takes place with me lying down on the couch, talking on the phone, I write lying down, I read lying down, and in the afternoons I go to the office and talk with my staff and have meetings.

Kerän: And you’re the provincial coordinator for the Manitoba League for Persons with Disabilities, so they understand?

Diane: Yes.

Kerän: Listen, you’ve had some interesting experiences when you applied for jobs. And I found, when you were telling me about them, I found they were quite astounding. What happened to you?

Diane: Well, I think the one that really was quite astounding to me was about eight years ago I applied to a quite prestigious non-profit agency here in Winnipeg for a position. And I was successful, the director called and offered me the job, and then I asked for the accommodation of, I said, “Well you know I don’t think I can come into the office every day, I would like to work at home some parts of the time.” And then there was silence, and she said “Well, no, part of the job is you have to be in the office, because you have to be part of the team. And you can’t be part of the team if you’re not here in person.” So then she said, “Oh no, now we have to start all over again and look for somebody else.”

Kerän: So it was YOUR fault, that you caused the problem for her?

Diane: That’s right. Yes.

Kerän: And you focus on women in this book I think because – is it true that women, more women than men suffer from invisible disabilities?

Diane: Definitely true. There are a lot of these, what they call these “new disabilities”, right? Chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and then long-standing disabilities like lupus, depression (women tend to have higher rates of depression than men), those are just a few examples of conditions that are invisible but can be very disabling.

Kerän: Diane, over the years we have seen some changes, physical ones anyway, you know, we’ve made buildings and sidewalks more accessible. What – What do you want to see happen right now to change the attitudes toward invisible disabilities?

Diane: Well, I would like employers to understand that work can take place in any format, and work goals can be achieved often in different ways that we’re not used to, but we need to adopt a flexible attitude toward work: where it takes place, how it takes place. Particularly in this computer age, there should be no reason why we can’t have many more home-based employees who may not be able to get out as much. That’s my message: let’s think outside the box when it comes to work and how we work.

Kerän: Good thoughts to think about. Thank you so much!

Diane: Thank you!

Kerän: Alright take care.

Diane: Bye bye

Kerän: Bye bye.

Kerän: Diane Driedger’s one of the editors of “Living the Edges”. which is a disabled women’s reader. She’s also the provincial co-ordinator for the Manitoba League for Persons with Disabilities. And I’d like to hear from you on the subject. Are you someone with an invisible disability, or as Diane puts it someone with Double Jeopardy of being woman and disabled? What are your thoughts on this? Why are we not makign progress? Why are we still blind to the fact that the world doesn’t have to be full of “normal” people? That there is lots of room, and that room should be made for everybody no matter what the differences are? You can call our listener line 788 3102 or email us .

The book is $30 direct from the publisher (I think they’re Canadian dollars), $30 USD from Amazon, or $57 AUD from Emporium Books Australia. And if you’d like your local academic or public library to stock it, how about putting in a request to the librarian?

2 thoughts on “New book: Living the Edges: A Disabled Women’s Reader

  1. Oooh, looks interesting. If anyone gets a copy shipped to the UK from the publisher, please say how much the shipping is (I can’t afford it right now, so I don’t want to ask about shipping to them directly!)

    Is the use of ‘intellectual disability’ to cover mental ill health common usage in Canada, or is that a mis-step on the part of the interviewer? I

  2. I’ve not heard it used to refer to people with mental health conditions, but I admit I’ve been very quiet about who I talk to.

    I am so happy you brought this book to our attention, Lauredhel, because I am totally buying it with my book store gift card. 🙂

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