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Lennard Davis | Disability Studies Across the Disciplines: Theory & Praxis


It is my great honor to introduce our speaker, Lennard Davis who is professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago As my students in the audience know, Professor Davis has been a central driving force in the development of disability studies almost since the very beginning His book, “Enforcing Normalcy”, was a groundbreaking contribution to the field demonstrating clearly how disability is not an exceptional state nor a fringed civil rights concern,
but a central and definitive component of the human experience He has since edited five editions of the disability studies reader,
the most important anthology in the field And his work spans the disciplines I have used his articles to teach about disability in literature, the law, art history,
and to discuss bridging the sciences with the humanities He is a testament to the interdisciplinary potential of disability studies In edition to being an English professor, he is also
professor of disability and human development in the school of applied health sciences a professor of medical education
In the college of medicine and the director of Project Biocultures, a think tank devoted to around the intersection of culture, medicine, disability, biotechnology, and the biosphere His talk tonight, “Disability Studies Across the Disciplines: Theory and Praxis”,
covers the brand usefulness of disability studies in the realms of the biocultural, biopolitical, intersectional, and governmental From the classroom to the streets, disability studies and activism give us a model
of how intellectual and political labor can work productively together Please join me in welcoming, Lennard Davis
*Applause* Thanks for coming
I am bilaterally mic’d here so I’m having a slight auditory hallucination, speaking I want to thank Marion, thank the health humanities lab
Denise, Kat, everybody else that she thanked by extension through her And I also thank Marion also for that nice presentation
which actually kind of covers my whole talk so maybe I should just go home *laughs* Anyway I have an interesting assignment for tonight, Oh and I’m actually going to also speak for
forty minutes and I’m setting my timer to make sure I don’t have academic disease here of speaking too much too long The task for today is to present to you a lot of
different things about disability studies And in a way its going to be very general,
and in a way its going to be weirdly focused and specific at moments It’s a complicated task and I’m just trying to, figure it out So the first thing is, I just knocked this out the other day,
list of fields and you can probably add to them that are implicated in disability studies and the point being that
disabilities studies is a broad field that can link itself to a number of different disciplines And, if you go to the library and look, there’s a lot of work
in any of those particular fields relating to disability I think it’s also important to say that, you know, people may be working on
disability related things without thinking of themselves as being in disability studies And I think one of the things about a conference like this is to bring together people
who are working in medicine, science, technology, philosophy, and so on but maybe working on things that they don’t call disability studies There’s also, just in terms of theoreticians or philosophers who are involved in disability studies
and they are involved in other fields as well Somebody like Michelle Foucault, whose work on power ,
discourse, and normatively fits really nicely into disability studies Marcel Maus, whose work on body techniques and habitus
also has been used, and you can go down the line Um, Judith Butler, Lacan, Marx, Sigmund Freud pretty much everything
Uh Deleuze and Guatari, ideas about assemblages Bourdieu, habitus and Edward Said, constructing the other
all of those works and more, uh, philosophers and more can easily fit into the rubric of disability studies
along with those philosophers in disability studies who do the work of disability In terms of literature I just made up a kind of very limited collection of images
but literature is filled with people with disabilities or character with disabilities Part of the work of disability studies is to understand how they’re used how they’re deployed
what functions they serve Tiny Tim on the upper left, Captain Ahab on the upper right
who both physically has a disability and also has affective disabilities The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The lower left picture is from a film version of “Sound and Fury”
Of course Richard the third And there’s a movie called “Safe”, which some of you may have seen
about a women with environmental allergies So, obviously literature, obviously art I just have a limited selection
I have a slide show with like hundreds of pictures These are pictures, on the upper left of Christ healing a blind person
also on the upper right, Christ healing a blind person from the Sienese School ??? Beggar, it’s called “Beggars” and that actually opens up a whole other field So, the middle picture in the bottom is by ??
and it’s a also beggar, who has a series of etchings of beggars who are also disabled And then there’s just a deaf person or hearing impaired person from the eighteenth century So art obviously as literature is brief for the study of disability
and how it’s deployed Interestingly music too, on the left is Paul ??? who was a friend of Ravel and who. Had lost one arm, he had his left hand So Ravel, and a bunch of people like ?? and friends of his
wrote piano pieces for the left hand for him but they were also widely played and, you know, it’s hard too play with the left hand
so it’s also an interesting challenge for anyone Evelyn glennie in the middle is a deaf drummer who is considered by many the
best drummer in the world You all know the guy on the lower left who is repeated to have been deaf
The right is a rock band made up of deaf musicians On the upper right was a deaf version, well a combined deaf and hearing version,
of “Spring Awakening” that was done by Deaf West in New York and various other places,
It was a musical with song signing So you could assume that deafness would have nothing to do with musicBut all you have to do is
look into it carefully and there’s a huge connection between various disabilities and music The other thing is, and it’s true for a lot of other studies but it particularly works well in
disability studies, which is that there’s an intimate connection between theory and praxis So, activism and disability activists have been almost the spur
of what brought disability studies into being On the upper left is an important moment called the capital crawl
It’s come to called the capital crawl In which, people with disabilities climbed up the steps of the capital
Threw their wheelchairs away and their assisted devices and crawled up, very painstakingly in the case of many people,
to try to get the ADA passed On the right is a group called “Adapt”, which are still around
and their main interest is transportation accessibility They tended to be and to look like kind of “Hell’s Angels”
and did a lot of blocking of buses and chaining themselves together They have a kind of rep, you know, in activist circles
Also on the lower left is a protest against “Million Dollar Baby” There’s been a lot of activism around films, because films tend to have
a very similar narrative Which is the “Kill or Cure” narrative, so either films are about people with disabilities who get cured or people with disabilities who kill themselves or ask other people to kill them So there’s been a lot of activism around various films
and I’m sure you know all the films involved or many of them, and I’ll come to that later too So I think it’s important because, unlike many conferences, academic conferences,
when you go to conferences like the society for disability studies People who are there are activists as well as academics
and then there is the interesting interchange between the academic and the You know, uncomfortable and comfortable at moments for both sides So then also there’s the political, I just put this up because I have a book which I wrote
about the Americans with disabilities act I think it’s important to note that, in 1990 when the law was passed
It’s the largest civil rights bill ever passed anywhere and it’s the model for disability legislation around the world
It was really accomplished by a combination of academics theorizing, lawyers figuring it out, activists coming together, and it wouldn’t have happened
had it not been for that confluence and by the way, I interviewed over fifty people to write the book, people who are involved
and everybody including Steny Hoyer and people who are around now, Bob Dole said it could never be passed now, this bill would never be passed now
So it’s time, place, and talent I want to just kind of present, and many of you know this but for this of you who don’t
I want to present a very quick approach to discussing the idea behind the founding of a certain kind of disability studies And so, it postulates that there are three models and you can see them historically
so it’s a kind of diachronic explanation and the first model would be the charity model, which begins with the idea of God and sin
and people are disabled because either they’re being punished by God or it’s God’s mysterious ways or they’ve committed a sin
Or and/or they’ve committed a sin, so they get their disability Or because of their parents actions, and then the cure or the answer to the problem is either prayer or alms giving alms to the disabled Then that’s succeeded by the medical model let’s say in the nineteenth century
And in the medical model, you’re disabled not because of God or sin but because of genetics, because of disease or trauma
You get the disability and the remedy is treatment or care And those two models were sort of like preexisting disability studies
Disability studies particularly in the UK came up with the social model In the social model, and a lot of people in the UK were Marxists
so it has a kind of Marxist flavor to it, and that model basically says that it’s not genetics, trauma, God, sin
But it’s the political, social, and cultural practices in a society that create disability They may also make a distinction between disability/impairment
The distinction is that an impairment is a physical or mental limitation, lack, inability, and so on The disability is the effect of discrimination or lack of accommodation
against people with impairments So in that model, I assume that now and again through glass darkly we’ll do this So, that would be sort of like the foundational model for understanding disability
There’s also something that’s come in since disability studies particularly in the UK called critical disability studies Critical disability studies corresponds with also I would say
the kind of disability studies we do in the US Which is essentially humanities based, theory driven, and so on
So there was a kind of fight in disability studies between the marxist foundational model and the critical disability studies or disability studies in the humanities using
some of the theoreticians that I was talking about But I think by this point distinction has evened out and everybody more or less
is doing critical disability studies This are the sort of general things, then I wanted to talk about a little bit of my work
in Enforcing Normalcy So what I did in that book and for me this is foundational for my sense of
how I entered disability studies It cam from a sort of a strange little moment where I began to ask myself the question
“When did people start talking about being normal?” Because if you think about disability, disability is sort of postulated against being normal
So disability we say would be abnormal It turns out that this weird confluence happened where the word starts very late it doesn’t
enter the OED until mid-nineteenth century It does it in French and a couple of other languages around the same time
So it didn’t exist before earlier it just referred to either a certain type of teaching school or a carpenter’s, you know what do you call that, square
Which was called a normal square This is Adolphe Quetelet, and he was the first person who essentially decided to,
the other thing was that the word normal, the people who tended to use it were two groups Which are essentially the same group and they were statisticians who then all
ended up being eugenicists So the word normal comes from statistics and obviously the normal curve, the bell curve or the normal curve, is a way of talking about how you think about variation And normalcy within that Adolphe Quetelet was the first person who essentially said “let’s use statistics”
which literally means state istics or data about the state how many people live in that state, populations, numbers of buildings, income, so and so and he said “why can’t we do that with human bodies?” So Quetelet actually started measuring human bodies to find out what was the average
What he called l’homme moyen “The average man” and what the average arm length was, leg, so on
and he was sort of in a way the first person to really lay out this issue about statistics applied to the body and an idea of the normal
Then the person who’s sort of well known for this is Sir Francis Galton He was Darwin’s cousin, first cousin, and he was the founder of eugenics
Can’t get into all of that you know something about eugenics It was, uh, you know eugenics was the idea that you could breed better human beings
And it was a very progressive idea people really retrospectively look at eugenics and say like “how could anybody do that?” but the reality is that eugenics actually was
It was equivalent in the nineteenth century to breeding animals Like all of the dog breeds we have were basically bred in the nineteenth century so the idea was
if you could breed dogs and cows and make them better Why not breed humans? So Galton suggested that but in a positive way like not
killing people and not sterilizing them, but trying to get the best people to marry each other It’s a very Darwinian, he was working with his cousin, a very Darwinian idea
but just to go to the idea of normal Galton used the normal curve as a tool, but interestingly he had a problem
because if you are thinking of the normal curve and you’re thinking about human traits Like intelligence or size or strength what you’re going to find out is that
the majority of people are in the middle and so if you think of intelligence on the one hand you might have people who are
not intelligent on the other side you have people who are very intelligent In the middle is mediocrity, so that was a problem for him as a eugenicist so what he did
was flip the normal curve around and create what he called an ogive Which was a way of then saying the preferred trait would be on the right
and therefore that would be intelligence strength and so on and the left would be the less desirable traits So that really started the foundation of the thinking of what’s normal and abnormal
in the UK the US and spread around the world And what that in fact did was it was applied to racial groups and this a photograph of what
would be the “fitter” family and the unfit family and the word fitness which is still with us today comes from this eugenic issue that comes out of the idea of
normality so for me normality is kind very of central to how we think about disability And how certain people get described as normal and other people not
In a lot of earlier work in disability studies was about physical disabilities But mental disabilities are very important and I wrote book about OCD and I’ll talk a little bit
about that but I want to make analogy between psychological things and physical things So the wheelchair analogy, what I’m calling the wheelchair analogy, so a person using a wheelchair is not disabled until they meet steps and there’s no ramps and no elevators So this is an argument about the environment creating disability but with a psychiatric
disorder what is the equivalent of the steps in other words what are the barriers So the solution to the wheelchair problem is to provide ramps and elevators but what’s the
solution to the psychiatric problem and I think that there are lots of discussion about that now You know I have a student who’s just doing her dissertation on mad studies as it’s called
Which is a kind of interesting development it’s tied in with the whole issue of neurodiversity And you know trying to redefine what’s madness and as with all of these things
what’s important is to have the people who are asking the questions be the people with the disabilities because for too long we’ve had the issue of people with disabilities being
studied by being spoken for by people without disabilities So if you’re interested there’s a very good website called Mindfreedom.org which is basically
run by people with effective disorders and this group calls itself survivors or consumers Either survivors of the mental health system or consumers and postulates its own relationship
to the resources that many people need There’s also another group call hearing voices by people who hear voices and their attitude
is, they’re a worldwide organization, their attitude is “yea we here voices, it’s a neurological glitch in our brains. We’re not crazy we need to figure out how to go through
the day with hearing voices” So in terms of the whole issue of disability and impairment the social model says there’s this
thing called impairment and that’s kind of medically diagnosed And then there’s this thing called disability and that in some ways is created by the
enviroment but it becomes a little harder to talk about that in certain kinds ways So physical impairments one would say are “real” based on medical diagnoses
but psychiatric impairments are “real” based on psychiatric diagnoses But are psychiatric diagnoses real or are they socially constructed or both?
And so that raises the question of impairment, because impairment used to feel like a rock solid concept, but now I think one of the aspects of critical disability studies
is to question even the absolute solidity of impairment And in terms of psychiatric disorders my book “Obsession: A History” really asks what is OCD?
and in a lot of ways it says it’s a functional brain disorder some people say that It’s a genetic disorder is another approach, it’s a neurochemical disorder, it’s an anxiety disorder, it’s a personality disorder in other words there’s so many different definitions floating around about something like OCD
Or could you say it was a socially contrasted disorder And when I say socially constructed I don’t mean that it isn’t true and it doesn’t exist
and that people don’t suffer from it but I’m just saying that there is within medicine this is kind of one of my biocultural points is that
different societies have a symptom pool you could say like a pool of symptoms That we could reach into and pull out at any given historical moment and then the question is
How are those symptom pools assembled? What do we call those things? That itself is very much human related it’s constructed
The DSM which is the manual of psychiatric disorders Is made up of committees of people who make decisions about what will be in it and
what won’t be in it and those things assemble symptoms into knowable, nameable things So one of the questions that I raise is first of all does it matter if a disease has a history
And if we look at the history of the disease we come up with certain kinds of things One is that the models vary according to nation and culture so there are certain
diseases that don’t exist in the US that are accepted in other countries I mean I spent a lot of time in Italy and the analogy I always use is in Italy or France
people have livers and they talk about them You’ll say to someone “How are you feeling today?” and they go “Ah my liver”
And in the United States no-one talks about their liver So I mean, they’re not wrong to do it they just have a way of talking about the way they feel
based on growing up in a culture where parents said “Ah I think your liver is a little off today” So these models vary according to nation and culture. The DSM which it says in its opening
exists to enforce consensus where there may not be consensus between sub specializations The disease model is seen as an analogy. So disease models are an analogic I guess you’d say.
Psychiatric diagnoses are synchronic what I mean by that is that in any given moment There is a general agreement on a specific number of diseases, what happens if you look at it diachronically over time is that those definitions change So the point is that for medicine often the past is just a history of error, everything in the past is
wrong and what’s happening right now is right There’s a kind of utopian thing at this moment everything is correct but we know in twenty
or thirty years that we’ll look back on this moment diachronically and say “Like well, we didn’t quite believe that anymore”
So that’s one of the issues And culture and history are always excluded from a diagnostic category, not always, but usually
So that is to say that all previous diagnostic models are wrong by definition I wanted to just bring up a few other issues which might be sort of thought of as tension
points within disability studies and one is the issue of pain So especially in the US disability has a more positive sense the idea was there was a whole disability movement, disability pride we should say disabilities great As people did with African-American pride and various Latinx pride, every oppressed group has
a stage where it needs to say “We’re better than people are saying we are. We value who we are.” But pain makes it complicated because, people who are in pain, it’s hard to celebrate pain
You can’t say “This is a great thing I’m happy I’m in pain” So it just raises the issue about the over valorization of a certain kind of identity And then dealing with, you know, in the sort of second wave disability studies
What do you do about pain? What do you do about parts of disability that are hard? That are uncomfortable? That don’t fit into a celebratory mode so that’s one thing
The other thing I haven’t talked about deafness at all But deafness has a complicated relationship with disability The deaf community for a long time saw itself as not disabled and didn’t see itself
in the disability studies orbit because deaf people feel like “We’re not disabled we just have a different language. We’re a cultural minority
we have a history, we have a language, we have a culture and the only problem is that most of you don’t speak sign language and if you were bilingual,
that is if you signed and understood sign language then there wouldn’t be a problem.” On the other hand nine-five percent of deaf people are born to hearing parents
So it’s not a group that can follow itself along over the generations It’s almost like every generation has to rediscover deafness So now we have a technological fix and I haven’t talked about technology, but technology is
intimately related to disability and to deafness The technological fix is cochlear implants the standard scenario is a parent gives birth to a child
Now we can detect very early if someone’s deaf There’s the usual bewailing of the fact that the child can’t hear and then very early on
within a week or two they’re visited by an audiologist Who says “Don’t worry we can cure this. We have cochlear implants” And now bilateral cochlear implants are more the rule and the exception as early as six months
or even younger. So the hearing parents go like “Fine, do it.” Obviously the child has no say, but the truth of the matter is that its not a cure
in some ways cochlear implants are getting better They’re like really good hearing aids, but they’re not a cure and anyone who wears them will take off the processor and be deaf at least 12 hours a day The other thing is that we don’t understand, and I’m going to try to show you this, what things
sound like because I think in our ear we have something like thousands and thousands of cilia each one of them receive or interpret sound
Cochlear implants I think the best ones have about thirty or forty of those receptors When you insert a cochlear implant by the way you get rid of any residual hearing
that the child might have in order to do that Plus they’re also stuck with that technology for the rest of their lives you can’t take it out
and put a new one in the processors can change but not the technology So like here’s a piece of music you might be familiar with by Beethoven
This is what it sounds like with a cochlear implant Just so that you understand that this is not the same thing
And in team of sound, I have a little Monty Python… This is what that sounds like Alright I think you get the point. So there could be a lively discussion about cochlear implants and whether they should be used or not I just had like on detail about that which is that Im not against cochlear implants I mean they’re technology, technology can be useful
Its not useful for everybody some children do better than others with them But the point about it is that because, there’s three companies in the world that make cochlear implants, by the way very profitable If you wanna have a bilateral cochlear implant it’s about the price of a down payment on a
multi-million dollar home If you wanted to just have one its about the price of a really nice Mercedes with everything on it And everyone makes money along the way so there is a financial incentive
But the thing about the cochlear implant is that some kids do well some don’t They’ve made a rule at least in the United States and many other countries
that if you implant the child you cannot let the child learn sign language Because if you do the information that’s coming into a child’s eyes at one or two
or six months old is working it’s very powerful relevant information What’s coming into the ears sounds kind of like that
So the child will tend to focus on the sign language and not pay attention So then the argument is that they’re not developing neural networks and that therefore
you need to isolate so that’s a real problem because yea you can see where that’s going I have a lot more to say about that but I’m going to move on
Another issue that’s current is the situation about genetic testing and prenatal screening You’ve all probably seen Gattaca you know the scenario about being able to choose
The Gattaca scenario is becoming more and more real Particularly for people who are using preimplantation technology
There’s comes these decisions that need to be made You may have to choose among a series of fertilized eggs or zygotes one of which may have a disability or potential for disability and others not You’ll be counseled and the point will be will you choose the child that’s going to be deaf
Or will you choose the child or at least the zygote with the potential to not have that trait You know with amneio satesis?? that’s obviously an area
It’s interesting because we usually say that eugenics is over now, that it’s a done deal But what’s interesting is that the center for eugenics it was in cold springs harbor and I
always say eugenics was doing really well a lot of progressive people thought eugenics was good Until the nazis gave it a bad name So after world war ll the center for eugenics in cold springs harbor changed its name and
changed it to the center for genetics, it’s the same place So in some ways eugenics lives now in this area of genetic testing an prenatal screening
There’s also a kind of controversy about assisted suicide, you may remember Brittany Maynard Who was kind of the poster child for assisted suicide there are a couple of movies like “The Barbarian Invasions” and “The Sea Inside” and the issue is there are more and more states now that are approving assisted suicide the question is this a process that would somehow tilt toward discriminating against people with disabilities and would there be pressure on people with disabilities to kill themselves Will family and friends push toward that? Will hospitals with limited beds suggest that?
I think it’s an open and lively discussion and I have my opinions but we can discuss that later Another issue is this issue around facilitated sex or sexual surrogacy I don’t know how many of you have seen the movie “The Sessions” I recommend it, its a good movie An unlike many other films about disability the director is a person with a disability and the writer of the actual piece it was based on was a person who was actually very much like the person who’s depicted and so the question is whether if people who have severe disabilities and do not have the opportunity necessarily to have sex Should there be sexual surrogacy? Should there be sexual therapists who work with them?
That’s being debated all over the place and all over the world and there’s some really interesting literature on it
Obviously the reasons for I think you can understand what the reasons for, but there are certainly reasons against
And this is a quote from this book “Being and Being Bought” And this is a statement opposing surrogacy, because it can be a form of prostitution
So that is up in the air The other issue I think interestingly is should disabled actors play disabled roles? And by in large when we see movies that are about disability The vast majority of them have non disabled actors playing the roles and many of them win academy awards because it’s kind of like a great way to win an academy award If you are a non disabled person playing a disabled role for example the character in glee
who’s the wheelchair user is not a wheelchair user and when they did dancing on the show they had to use a body double for him
So I have a picture on the right of Al Jolsen in black face because People compare actors who are non disabled playing disabled roles to people who are not black playing black people and instead of calling it blacking up people call it cripping up The process of doing that There are many actors who are disabled nowadays and more so who are playing
disabled roles that is something that we need to see a whole lot more of In addition to simply seeing it for cultural reasons we also need to see it for practical reasons because if you’re a disabled person and you want to be an actor There’s kind of a big sign up that says forget about it so that’s something that we need to have a disabled kid saying to his parent “I’d like to be an actor” And them saying “Yea go for it, there’s a real chance for you” it’s hard to be an actor anyway
So I also casually mentioned the idea of the biocultural an im going to skip that What I wanted to talk about just very briefly is that whenever I go to a place I always look up the website to see how well that place is dealing with disability at least on its website So the thing that was interesting about duke I usually look and see like the diversity things and there’s always a nice display of diversity in the univerity but without any people with disabilities But duke actually doesn’t have a lot of pictures of people duke has a lot of pictures buildings
So I don’t know whether they’re celebrating buildings or what You should check it out it’s an interesting process so there is a disability kind of resource center
There’s no disability studies and I think that’s the point There’s not disability culture that’s listed on the website particularly but there is this ton of legalistic stuff and I found what was fascinating was that if you look at this disability status definitions, it’s wrong it is the definitions according to the 1990 ADA but not the revision the amendments act in 2008 Which totally got rid of these definition cause they ended up being bollocks up in court
This thing about one or more life activities I think someone should tell people here but also there was one little outsourcing on the
disability page something called Alexander street which I hadn’t heard of Which has nothing to do with duke and it’s kind of like if you’re interested in anything about disability studies check this out it’s not here Alright so I know this has been kind of a rapid cook’s tour of certain corners of disability studies but in the Q&A I’m willing to talk about anything in greater depth *Audience Applause* My name is Priscilla Smith and I live with disabled children my daughter to my left has been disabled legally for the last five years My question to you is concerning the ad which you just said duke does their website does not come up with being disabled or the definition correctly How would we as the people go to them and have them correct that? because from experience I know even their medical staff is not quite up to par So how would we go about fixing that? Yea that’s a really good question, I think universities have be come a little sensitive not much but a little to issues around identity You know there’s been a steep learning curve and by the way I don’t know if you know this but one of the biggest institutions that were against the ADA were the universities They had lobbyists come to Washington they did not want to have the ADA applied to
universities for lots of reasons But I think that if someone in this room were to just make a phone call to who? You guys would know who to call and just say like “hey you need to get that definition up to shape” I think they might be embarrassed so I think embarrassment is a good tactic The Chronicle The Chronicle is good I was about to say or if you go to the local newspaper and say “hey I’ve got an interesting story for you” Hi my name is Hillary and I am legally blind, I had trouble with the website I had a lot of trouble with duke but they do respond you just have to call So maybe the webmaster? Find out who’s in charge of the website but if you don’t speak out you don’t get resolves and duke performances it’s an education process You spend a lot of time being angry but, being disabled as an advocate you depend a lot of time
To make change you have to advocate instead of being angry and nasty Take that approach but it doesn’t always work Well what’s interesting in terms of the ADA the biggest number of lawsuits that are coming out of it right now are from the national association of the blind for about websites For corporate websites university websites access to educational materials in universities when there like online also by the deaf people but the issue around accessibility of websites is a dramatic area Thanks for all of your comments yes to the comment you just made a couple of minutes ago
is the one that really arrested me that universities were one of the main forces opposing the ADA I’d like here more about that I’m wondering is it just about gothic universities
and bad architecture or is it really kind of going to the core of the kind of people who identify with universities people who identify with high abilities and high achievement
and all these kind of things could that be apart of that Yea no I think I mean definitely gothic as you call them or older universities where they have to retrofit everything but even new ones you know I mean There’s a famous story about Ed Roberts who was one of the early activists a Berkeley and there’s a photograph which you could find it online The university didn’t want to let him in because he basically had to get around in a bed and there’s this image of them pulling this bed up into a dorm room I think there’s an administrative headset those of us who are faculty know we’ve
bumped into that its kind of like how are we going to do that? Its going to cost so much money we’ll never be able to, you know, it’s never been done but you know the two big institutions that were against the ADA, well three One was business for similar reasons the other was greyhound, buses not urban buses but particularly, who do they call them? Over the road I think they’re called buses that was a huge element also religious groups, churches. You know all the people you would think would be for it There’s a carveout in the ADA that says it doesn’t apply to churches and synagogues and mosques. The ADA does not apply to them they won that one Why is that? Because the got lobbyists in there and they also said church and state and you can tell us
what to do you know if you’re interested it’s a fascinating history I wrote this book called “Enabling Acts” about the ADA and I didn’t know anything about
the ADA frankly until I wrote the book And I discovered and it’s all in there the machinations, I tried to write it kind of like a
Washington who dun it thriller so you get to see these people come in and lobby against it You know I said it was a serendipitous thing that the ADA got passed it was serendipitous
Some of it revolved around completely whimsical things like a Thursday night poker game Which got basically a bunch of hippies from Berkeley into the White House it’s that kind of stuff history is a strange creature So we have time for two more questions, so I’ll take one here and then you in the back so I’ll come around to you after this question First of all thank you a really excellent discussion and talk that was great I guess let me preface the question just with a really short story So when the LGBTQ center here was opened a few years ago President Brodhead the
university president a the time He said “oh you know this is great two of the most illustrious faculty members in our history
were a black man, John Hope Franklin, and a gay man Reynolds Price What he left out of that was that also Reynolds Price used a wheelchair so he could have included “and a person with a disability” In that conversation about what essentially he was talking about which was diversity
So that is perfect to the question of suggestions for how to be sure that diversity is included That disability is included in all of our discussions when every group in our society
these days is talking about oh diversity, diversity, diversity Yea I knew Reynolds Price by the way that is a huge question and i’ll try to give it a couple of suggestions I wrote a piece for the chronicle sayin exactly that Like why is disability left out of the diversity paradigm and it is
I think it’s really important that universities include disability in their diversity statements, official statements And not just use the language but include in a daily basis I think when you
have events like this and you don’t have closed captioning or sign language interpretation You’re basically hanging a sign outside the room saying “no deaf people allowed” and then, you know, they say “well no deaf people came, so then we shouldn’t do it” I’ve been in the disability world for a long time and I forget sometimes when there’s an event to make sure that, you know, all of the things that Marion said and that’s expanding too Just one example in the news today I don’t know if you saw but James Byrd one of his muderers from the dragging death in Texas was just executed I’m not for execution but he was executed last night and what everyone forgets about
James Byrd was that he was a man with a disability And I wrote about that at the time because the newspapers covered it for the first few days and then it got forgotten by the fact that he was African-American which is important super important But the combination, the intersection if you want, of disability and race makes people even more vulnerable and that is the point So intersectionality argues that we have to remember these things together but I think that one of the weaknesses of the intersectional argument Is that it’s great for minority groups or press groups that have gotten recognition but disability always kind of falls out of view And I think there are groups that are aiming for social justice for people with disabilities that are saying “we go to these LGBTQ things but we don’t feel included” So that just requires constant vigilance which is not easy I just wanted to say first of all thank you for your commentsI am a person who works at a university, a public institution in a one mile radius ill just leave it there *audience laughs* Who has been working in the field for about six years and I want to just say a couple of things I appreciate all of your comments I’m very much an advocate for disability studies And I did want to say in response to the lady’s comment about the website. When I first got
trained I went to another big public institution to get my training And you know just to kind of get some best practices and one of the first things we talked about was the definition of a disability and like you said about the ADA So you know what I want to say is the way we’re trained as persons working with students who are coming in our offices everyday is that that’s what the definition is Cause you know we’re making these legal decisions but I will say a phone call to that office, I actually know the folks in that office and I know some others in a ten mile radius Ive been across the state speaking about different kinds of things we do as best practices
So anyway I think what we have to do is kind of go back to the table Because what we’re using is what we’ve been taught, but like you said the community needs to speak the community of persons with disability needs to speak And let us know, people like me who work in these offices seeing students everyday writing combinations letters legal decisions we’re making on behalf of the university everyday To help students to have the support that they need I was late because I was doing that *laughs*
What I’m saying is I agree with everything you’re saying But we just need to hear from the community so that we can understand what we need to do to make to better for the community Yea I totally agree Ok so that concludes this portion for our event let’s have another round of applause for our speaker *Applause*

Reynold King

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