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Elaine Gerber

Associate Professor, Anthropology

BA, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
MA, University of California, Los Angeles
PhD, University of California, Los Angeles
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Dr. Gerber is a medical anthropologist and disability studies scholar. Her work examines the intersection between culture and the body. Her earlier work dealt with women’s reproductive health; her more recent work has focused on disability. This work understands disability as a social construction, and a key lens through which to examine culture. There are both theoretical contributions and practical applications to her work. See the links below for more detail about some of her projects.


Gerber, Elaine. “Theater By The Blind: a retrospective look at an off-Broadway troupe, an international festival, and the making of disability culture”, Review of Disability Studies: An International Journal, Volume 16[1]: Spring 2020.

Gerber, Elaine. “Ableism and Its Discontents: Food as a form of power, control, and resistance among disabled people living in U.S. Institutions.” Food and Foodways, 28[1]: 1-21, 2020. DOI: 10.1080/07409710.2020.1718273

Gerber, Elaine. “Unbecoming Mother: Selected Notes on Miscarriage and Infertility.” Chapter 7, In Constructing (M)other: Narrative of Disability, Motherhood and the Politics of ‘Normal,’ edited by Priya Lalvani. Peter Lang, 2019.

Gerber, Elaine, Kim Lynch, and Serena Anan. “Disability and Food” in Disability in American Life: an Encyclopedia of Concepts, Policies, and Controversies edited by Tamar Heller, Sarah Parker Harris, Carol Gill, and Robert Perry Gould. ABC-CLIO, December 2018.

Gerber, Elaine. “How Bad Is Food Insecurity for Disabled Americans? It’s worse than the Census data show,” Invited blog, published by the SAFN (Society for Anthropology of Food and Nutrition), Feb 20, 2018. Available online at:

Gerber, Elaine. #EatDis Research Project: Executive Summary, August 2017.

Gerber, Elaine. Disability FEAST. Food Education, Access, Support, & Training by the World Institute on Disability (WID), 2015.

Gerber, Elaine. “Eating, Feeding, & Disability” in The Encyclopedia of Agricultural Ethics, Springer, edited by Paul B. Thompson and David M. Kaplan, 2012. Published online at:

Gerber, Elaine. "Describing Tragedy: The Information Access Needs of Blind People during Emergency Situations," Human Organization, Volume 68[1]: 73-81, 2009.

Kirchner, Corinne, Elaine Gerber, and Brooke Smith. “Designed to Deter: Community Barriers to Physical Activity for People with Visual or Motor Impairments”, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 34[4]:349 – 352, 2008. Online:

Gerber, Elaine. “Food Studies and Disability Studies: Introducing a Happy Marriage” in Eat, Drink & Inclusion: The Politics of Disability & Food. Disability Studies Quarterly, Special Theme Issue, Volume 27[3], 2007. Published online at:

Gerber, Elaine. "Seeing Isn't Believing: Blindness, Race, and Cultural Literacy," The Senses & Society, 2[1]:27-40, 2007.

Gerber, Elaine and Brooke Smith. "Literacy & Controversy: Focus Group Data from Canada on Proposed Changes to the Braille Code (UEBC)," Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 100[8]:459-470, 2006.

Gerber, Elaine. "The Benefits of and Barriers to Computer Use for Individuals Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired," Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 97[9]:536-550, 2003.

Gerber, Elaine and Corinne Kirchner, "Livable Communities Throughout the Life Course," Disability Studies Quarterly, 23[2]: 41-57, 2003. Available online at:

Gerber, Elaine, "Deconstructing Pregnancy: Seeing ‘Eggs’ and the Ambiguity of Very Early Conceptions," Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 16[1]:92-108, 2002.


Multicultural America (ANTH110)
Introduction to Disability Studies, Rights, & Culture (ANTH 105)
Introduction to Cultural Anthropology (ANTH 100)
Health & Healing in Cross-Cultural perspectives (ANTH 180)
Disability in US Popular Culture (ANTH 205)
Methods in Anthropological Research & Practice (ANTH 301)
Anthropology of Food & Nutrition (ANTH 330)
Medical Anthropology (ANTH 440)
Community & Health (ANTH 423/523)

Other Courses Taught: Embodiment and Disability; Disability, Health, & Community; Qualitative Research Methods; The Anthropology of Food; Culture and Medicine; The Politics & Culture of Reproductive Technologies; Reproduction and the Law; Introduction to Anthropology; Introduction to Physical Anthropology; Origins of Society


Research Projects

#EatDis: Food & Disability Research

#EatDis was a community-based, participatory research project about disabled people’s experiences shopping, cooking, and dining. The goal was to document the barriers and facilitators to food access, as well as additional creative solutions to those barriers used by disabled people themselves. Food insecurity is a significant problem in the U.S., and disabled people share a disproportionate amount of that burden. Disabled people are over-represented in poor communities where food insecurity is prevalent (Coleman-Jensen and Nord 2013). They also experience additional barriers than do their non-disabled counterparts. And, they are at greater risk for, and more likely to experience, negative health consequences from food insecurity than are non-disabled people.

Food & Disability: how the social & cultural construction of food and eating may create disabling conditions, maintain disability boundaries, or reduce stigmatizing conditions in varying cross-cultural contexts, and how the socio-cultural construction of disability may limit what foods people can access, where, how much, and with whom they eat.

Disability Studies

Disability Studies: recognizes that disability is a key aspect of human experience, and that the nature of that experience is constructed and mediated by culture (rather than being a fixed, biological given.) Further the nature of that experience has important political, social, and economic implications for society as a whole, including both disabled and nondisabled people.

Disability Studies (DS) is the study of disability as a key aspect of human experience on par with race, class, gender, sex, and sexual orientation. DS challenges the view of disability as an individual deficit or defect that can be remedied solely through medical intervention and "experts." Rather, it explores the social, cultural, and other factors that define disability and determine collective responses to difference. Disability Studies seeks to augment understanding of disability in all cultures and historical periods, to promote greater awareness of the experiences of disabled people, and to advocate for social change. For more information, visit the Society for Disability Studies at:

Audio Description

Audio Description: its importance in cultural literacy, in emergency preparedness, and in shaping cultural forms of identity, such as race.

Audio Description (AD): Audio description is the verbal narration of non-verbal content (e.g., settings, gestures) inserted between dialogue in various media. By providing "radio-quality pictures," it is often described as being to the blind what closed captioning is to the Deaf. Already its reach is quite broad: there are hundreds of programs (and many more movies) televised each week with AD via the SAP feature, and AD is offered for many live theater and dance performances, as well as accompanying museum exhibits.

It is anticipated that the prevalence and uses of AD will grow tremendously, as this technology becomes more mainstream. Additionally, as screens become smaller and as the U.S. population ages, the need is likely to expand. There is already evidence to suggest that the benefits of AD extend beyond blind people to helping people with learning disabilities, people learning English as a second language, and many others, including sighted viewers. For example, it can allow sighted viewers, who may be driving or in another room preparing dinner, to continue to safely multi-task.

This topic is central to concerns of visual anthropology. I am particular interested in how this technology mediates visual culture for a non-visual audience:
+ How does one translate such content?
+ From the point of view of blind consumers, what constitutes "good" description?
+ What is culturally salient in the visual field?
+ Is race important to describe?

For more information, including to hear/see samples, visit The Audio Description Project:
See also:

Blind Theater

Blind Theater: with particular emphasis on the biannual blind theater festival in Croatia and the off-Broadway theater troupe, Theater By The Blind, and the construction of a positive disability identity.

The growth in "disability arts" has been profound in the years since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed, and blind theater is no exception. Nor is this growth limited to the United States.

For example, Croatia has organized and hosted the first (and consequently, biannual) international, blind theater festival in 1999. This festival is huge in Croatia: When I attended in 2001 and 2003, it was attended by the nation's Ministry of Culture, the country's Vice President, and the Mayor of Zagreb, all of whom spoke about the social, humanitarian, and artistic functions of the festival. There are banners advertising the festival across the central square and covering kiosks in downtown Zagreb.

Theater as social space occupied by blind and visually impaired people is atypical. By becoming performers, these actors destabilize notions of appropriate behavior for blind people: from objects of pity to agents of cultural production. On stage, they play with cultural symbols of blindness and sightedness, and manipulate the social "gaze" towards productive and empowering ends. They similarly interrogate the social construction of blindness and shared cultural experiences (e.g., workplace or housing discrimination, lack of professional training in and access to the arts.)

I twice accompanied members of Theater By The Blind, an off-Broadway theater company from New York, comprised of visually impaired and sighted artists, to the festival. I have also conducted fieldwork in England at the U.K. Premiere of Weights.

For more information, visit --
Theater By The Blind (now, Theater Breaking Through Barriers):

Novi Zivot, New Life Theater Company, Croatia:

Lynn Manning's Weights:

Extant Theatre, United Kingdom:

NAPA-OT Field School

NAPA-OT Field School in Antigua, Guatemala: Dr. Gerber participated as Visiting Instructor for the National Association of Applied Anthropology-Occupational Therapy (NAPA-OT) Field School in Antigua, Guatemala.

The goal of the field school is to promote social and occupational justice, which it enacts through partnerships with NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in and around Antigua, Guatemala.  By providing integrative fieldwork opportunities within occupational therapy, anthropology, and disability studies, the program seeks to refine the ideals of social and occupational justice in real-world contexts. The summer I was there, I worked with the Transitions Foundation, a community-based organization that operates on the peer-to-peer model, meaning that it is run by and for people with disabilities. They are a great organization! You can read more about them here:

Active Living

Active Living: How physical, social, and cultural environments facilitate or impede physical activity and health for people with impairments

This exploratory research was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and conducted with Corinne Kirchner, Brooke Smith, and the American Foundation for the Blind. Research suggests that people with disabilities are more likely to be sedentary, have greater health problems, and have more barriers to participating in physical activity than the general population. Yet, people with disabilities are underrepresented in "active living" research.

The goal of this research was to learn more about the relationship between the environment (built, natural, and attitudinal aspects) and access to physical activity and social participation for several groups of people with disabilities, who live in New York City -- specifically, those who use manual wheelchairs, motorized wheelchairs, dog guides, and long canes to navigate their environment.

For more information, see: