Crocker Fellow Explores How Disability Impacts Sibling Relationships

Community Inclusion
3 min readMar 11, 2024

A new zine from 2021 Allen C. Crocker Family Fellowship recipient Jess Mendes explores the experiences of adult siblings of individuals with physical, intellectual, behavioral and/or developmental disabilities, bringing together perspectives and providing resources for people living at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities.

To create Same-Same But Different, Mendes asked individuals to use personal essays and visual multimedia to unpack how disabling attitudes, environments, and systems impact their sibling relationships.

In addition to being a physical zine, Same-Same But Different is also a digital flipbook, and an accessible PDF version is also available. The title of the zine comes from an article published in Impact by Alison Whyte, executive director of the Disabilities Council in Washington, D.C., where she acknowledges that 90% of research on siblings affected by disabilities is white, relatively middle class, and female.

“Same-Same But Different” zine cover

Mendes said the idea of creating the zine came from a place of survival and watching her brother’s life almost come to a complete stop when he turned 22 and “aged out” of educational programs supported by the school system during the COVID-19 pandemic. As she called different organizations to figure out what to do and failed to get any answers, Mendes found herself wishing for something she could connect with as a visually oriented person.

“I’m proud of myself for having an idea and executing it,” Mendes said. “But beyond that, I hope this genuinely serves as a reference point so more families, creatives, storytellers, more people understand that they’re not alone. They can also use their creativity to share resources and not feel lost.”

To secure contributors’ participation, Mendes had a list of ideas and themes that she wanted to explore, such as financial planning, religion and faith, or sex, and she let contributors pick the topic that resonated most with them.

Initially, Mendes envisioned a more photo-based project, but because the pandemic made it riskier to be in close physical contact with people, she pivoted toward multimedia instead.

“And in turn, that was more rewarding, because it allowed everyone more time to be reflective of what they wanted to say and how they wanted to represent their family,” Mendes said.

It was also important to Mendes that the zine’s closing pages include resources for caregivers, advocates, and small businesses to offer community guidance and help everyone understand that as challenging as circumstances can be, they are not alone.

“For family members, I hope we find community and not feel so isolated,” Mendes said. “And for anyone else, I hope they ask themselves, how can I contribute to making my environment more inclusive so that it eases everyone’s participation in the world.”

Since the zine was published, it has been featured on several platforms, including zine festivals nationwide. Mendes presented it during Boston Design Week at the nonprofit where she works, the Institute for Human Centered Design. She also presented Same-Same But Different in August 2023 at the Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability Conference, which brings together arts and culture administrators to discuss how to make their spaces more accessible and inclusive to the public.

And whether it’s been shared with a family member, a friend, or these more institutional settings, Mendes said the feedback she’s received has been really positive.

“If I’m being completely honest, it’s surreal, because it’s been two-and-a-half years of trying to weave multiple parts into a final project that I feel confident standing by visually and storytelling-wise,” Mendes said.

Looking to the future, Mendes said she would love the opportunity to take her work from print to video, such as through a documentary, or realize her original vision of a photo book, in the style of photographers Deana Lawson and Diane Arbus.

“I’ll be extremely grateful if Same-Same But Different keeps evolving,” Mendes said. “Ultimately, I will have to turn to my brother as the muse to guide the next steps.”

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Community Inclusion

The Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) promotes the inclusion of people with disabilities in school, work, health care and community activities.