Remembering and Honoring the Late Adrienne Asch

Adrienne Asch, co-editor with Michelle Fine, of Women with Disabilitiesrecently lost her battle against cancer. In this blog entry, friends and colleagues remember  and honor the late Temple University Press author and disability activist.

“Adrienne Asch was brilliant, funny, and provocative. In the early 1970s, just after abortion rights were secured, she would turn to me and say, ‘We need to write on disability justice and abortion rights.’ When the families of babies with spina bifida were denying them treatment at birth, she would say to me, ‘We need to write on the autonomy and human rights of these babies.’ With wisdom and reflection, Adrienne dared to enter intellectual and political territory that others (including me) feared. Gifted with an outstanding mind and a compassionate heart, she was patient with my stumbling responses: But what about the consequences of such writings? And might these efforts be used against women’s rights? Or against families’ rights?  Together we navigated politically and ethically treacherous territory, gently carving a space for dialogue and debate, honoring sacred rights to reproductive freedom and to disability justice.  She held my hand as we wandered with pen and paper into territory where varied social justice movements sat in silent tension. This is perhaps just one instance of the myriad ways in which Adrienne transformed my life. women with disabilitiesShe was a friend and a colleague who taught me about music, food, the depths of loyalty, the significance of thinking deeply and dangerously about what is and what could be. We would walk across the street, and strangers would grab her arm and escort her in another direction—all in the name of ‘care.’ She was outraged; for years I would secretly apologize to these strangers after her brusque response.  Soon I too took offense, stopped apologizing, and appreciated the incredible patience she exercised with those of us who are temporarily able bodied, deluded by our own sense of ‘innocence’ and ‘care.’ I miss her much, owe her much, love her always.”—Michelle Fine, coeditor of Women with Disabilities 

“Adrienne was a brilliant thinker on so many topics; women and disability, the area in which I worked most closely with her, was just the tip of the iceberg. But aside from her many professional accomplishments—her resume was 33 pages—she had an extraordinarily large, diverse network of friends, who stayed in close touch with her virtually as well as literally—some traveling from across the country and around the world—during the last months of her life. In the last few weeks, her bedside was crowded with people from all walks of life who shared stories and remembrances, read aloud some of her many writings, organized early music concerts, participated in Shabbat services, and were just there for her.  There are enough Friends of Adrienne, as we were called, to form a small town and definitely a community. Her death is an irreparable loss to all of us who knew her and to so many fields to which she made major contributions—disability rights/studies, women and disability, reproductive rights, bioethics, and numerous others.”—Harilyn Rousso, author of Don’t Call me Inspirational

“I have known Adrienne since I was seventeen, and she a year older.  My relationship to her was a personal, and not a professional one.  She came to my wedding, knew all my children from birth, and developed her own independent relationship with them over the years.  Despite our never living in the same city, and often not the same country, we always stayed in touch with telephone calls and visits, and of course since the advent of email, in that way as well.  I may be one of the few people who did not develop that personal relationship out of a professional one.  She dated my brother in high school, and I think we both assumed she might be my sister-in-law one day.  Instead, we became sisterly without the assistance of my brother, and shared over the many years we have known each other the ups and downs of relationships, and the happinesses and setbacks of life.  We shared a deep love of Judaism, and of Jewish liturgical music.  We went to syngogogue together during our visits, and attended our first Havurah Institute together in 2000, and then continued to attend together over the next few years.  She went on to become a board member of the Institute.  Adrienne never did things half-way.  Of course I have read Adrienne’s books, and some of her many articles, and attended the “famous” Peter Singer debate at Darmouth.  And of course we have talked about the issues for which Adrienne is so well known—prenatal testing, abortion, surrogate motherhood, disability.  But mostly, we lived into some of those issues together in our real lives.   Adrienne also shared in my life as well—she never forgot  single important date in my life, and came to every single important event she could.  She was as rigorous in maintaining the work of our friendship as she was about her professional work.  That we never lost touch, even when I lived in Canada and Israel, is to her credit.  She came to visit me wherever I, and my family, was.  I will miss our long telephone calls, her taking my arm when we walked as a concession to me and my fear of tripping over her cane. I will even miss her despair and anger when she was treated like a child during our travels together.  Her anger, though sometimes uncomfortably sharp, was well-placed.  I attended  the National Federation of the Blind convention this year for the first time, and came to understand why this organization was so important to her.  I had a wonderful time, and learned to dodge hundreds of canes, and laugh about it.  I know Adrienne’s death is a big loss to many professional communities, but for me, I will simply miss her presence, her indominable spirit, her stubbornness, her deep capacity for love.”—Randi Stein, dance/movement therapist, M.A., DMT

 Adrienne Asch’s obituary appeared in the New York Times on November 23, 2013.

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