Autoethnographic Exploration: A Native Non-Native in the World of Learners with Hidden Visual Impairments



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Background: As an able-bodied sighted American Black female educator, I have strong ties to people with visual impairments including close family members. As an insider, I have the privilege of observing and experiencing first-hand the challenges and triumphs of individuals with visual impairments. I wrestle with how my observations and interactions with family members’ real-life social hindrances against their visual impairments influence and shape the educator and researcher I am and am becoming. The autoethnographic research explores transitioning through intersecting liminal spaces between family relations, public education, and economic dimensions that shape academic and pedagogic-professional practices. As an able-bodied sighted individual, I can never fully capture all of the personal struggles that people with visual impairments encounter. Therefore, my position as the centered-other is imbued with the understanding of empathic deference for people with visual impairments who navigate, operate, and live within the margins of society. Purpose: The study seeks to illuminate the overlooked transitions in my life journey through the world of people with hidden visual impairments toward an identity of self in public education. Methods: Using an autoethnographic approach that incorporates diverse artifacts, the study examines personal experiences of, interactions with, and perceptions of people with imperceptible visual disabilities as I navigate through transitions in familial and economic terrains, K-12 public education, and higher education. Through personal introspection about life experiences and autoethnographic artifacts, I explore tethers between the self-as-other and the shaping forces of my socialized reality. Employing personal reflection as an analytical tool, while being open to any patterns, themes, or connections emerging during data collection and analysis is the main approach when engaging in my autoethnographic research. The study uses a narrative approach to craft retellings of my experiences as an educator and family member with the intent of creating empathic pathways inviting others to consider the phenomenon of hidden visual impairments and the constituting of my researcher and educator identities. For data analysis, both manual open coding and computer-mediated coding within ATLAS.ti were used to explore various data collected in-depth to better examine my identity as an American Black female educator. Findings: My identity as a researcher and educator is still influenced by living and interacting with underidentified people with hidden visual impairments. While exploring pivotal life experiences, three core categories—family, economics, and education—serve as themes for critically examining documented life events. Specific life events, observations, and personal memories converge to interpretively capture snapshots of my developing self. The autoethnographic study revealed generational tethers that shape my ideology and pedagogical practices in public education. Conclusions: Professional development opportunities wherein educators critically reflect on threads between private experiences, personal ideologies, and professional pedagogies may prove beneficial. Coupled with exploring the gray areas within education, educators can possibly shape learners’ academic attainment and life trajectories.



Autoethnography, Self-reflection, American Black, Female, Educator, Visual impairment, Phenomenology, Identity, Self-study, Urban education, Family