Dr. Jim Ferris, a professor and the Ability Center Endowed Chair in Disability Studies, is a co-editor of the just-published Palgrave Handbook of Disability and Communication, a collection of essays that examines “the interconnection between disability and the discourse that makes it meaningful.”
“Disability is a profoundly communicative phenomenon” Ferris said. “It’s through communication that we know some people are disabled and some are not. Communication is how we understand what is normal and what is not normal.”
How people communicate, though, is always evolving — consider the rapid changes brought by social media in only two decades.
As a follow up to the edition published in 2000, the new handbook has been updated to explore that evolution as well as other current topics — TikTok, Brexit, artificial intelligence — in the context of disability communication and other areas of study for aspiring scholars.
“People on the autism spectrum can find each other online and build their community and share their experiences, their insights their strategies for dealing with an ableist world,” Ferris said. “That kind of communication wasn’t available 20 years ago. On the other hand, social media has also led to cyber stalking and cyber bullying. When we find important parts of our identity online, that presents a wealth of opportunities but also a wealth of vulnerability.”
The handbook also will explore topics such as disability and the power of taboo words, microaggressions toward people with disabilities, identity and intersectionality, and online gaming and disability, with the goal of stirring curiosity and thought, he said.
“We wanted to encourage scholars to find newer questions to ask and better ways to answer them.”
Joining Ferris as co-editors of the “Palgrave Handbook of Disability and Communication” handbook are three scholars in communication studies: Dr. Michael S. Jeffress, a professor and school counselor at Medical University of the Americas in St. Kitts and Nevis; Dr. Joy M. Cypher, a professor of communication studies at Rowan University and an Eastern Communication Association Teaching Fellow; and Dr. Julie-Ann Scott-Pollock, a professor of communication studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
The handbook’s introduction also includes personal reflections by each co-editor.
“One of the things that we know really well is that who we are and how we engage with the world has an influence on the judgment by others and what we then do,” Ferris said. “We wanted to make sure that we were clear about where we were coming from and what engaged us. Two editors identify as people with disabilities, two identify as non-disabled and that brings a different perspective as for us as well.”
As for what students will get out of the “Palgrave Handbook of Disability and Communication,” Ferris said he’s been using it in one of his classes because it provides the most current thinking about communication issues involving those with disabilities.
“It’s a road map for students,” he said, “and how they can seek to answer a particular research question.”