Conferencing While Dis/abled

I was at a conference recently that claimed it was mindful of accessibility when it seems–at least to me–as though it was more of an afterthought. Now, I understand that planning events is very difficult: I have volunteered at conferences many times, and have done event planning for campus-wide events. I’ve had to develop and implement Plan E.

But at the same time, this conference was about challenging norms. Granted, these norms were more about structures and histories than about bodies. But nonetheless, I had assumed there would have been more understanding of intersectionality.

Now, this is not a post with the intention to shame. Rather, it is a piece that I hope other folks who are organizing conferences will heed in the future. Making mistakes helps us learn. But in order to learn we need to recognize when our actions are problematic: if there is no critique there will be no learning.

Another caveat that I think most folks don’t consider is how hard it can be to be chronically ill, and/or have a dis/ability. You know when you’re sick or have an injury and you feel awful for a few days? Some days are better than others in that period, but overall you’re not feeling all that great, right? Well, imagine feeling like that ALL THE TIME. Yeah, some days you function better than others, but on the whole, things aren’t good.  It’s exhausting, frustrating, isolating, and any number of things I’ve written about in the past.

Aidan Gowling, friend of mine–though talking about the fuckery surrounding the recent US election–made a comment that I believe does a great job of analogizing living with a chronic condition: “I just want to abandon everything right now and like….lock myself in an abandoned warehouse with 10000000 dogs that don’t ever need to be fed or walked or have their poop picked up because they’re secretly robots but I don’t know that so it doesn’t ruin the illusion.” I pretty much feel the same (because, really, who enjoys picking up poop?).

The following is a list of tweets I began writing around 3:30AM because I couldn’t get my pain levels under control. In the spoonie world, we call that painsomnia. In case you were wondering, it is no fun whatsoever.

I was disappointed when not one attendee (out of hundreds) at the conference engaged with me (during the hours of the conference; I didn’t expect anyone else to be up at 3AM!). Not one person who was at the conference and used twitter said a thing. Really disheartening for a social justice/activist-type area(s) of academia. It also made me have a lot of questions about praxis.

At the same time, I wasn’t surprised because folks don’t seem to want to engage with discussions of disability. If you bring up ableism in a discussion often you will get a knee jerk defensive reaction as you would when discussing something like white privilege. Maybe this is because dis/ability has a history of being put “out of sight and out of mind” (as in sanitariums, asylums, and the like).

On the other hand, I’m really fucking tired of going to conferences that don’t–or don’t seem–to  consider how accessibility works for their attendees. Moreover, I’m really really fucking tired of the assumption that only ‘certain people’ (read: abled folks) can be academics. But you know what, we exist, and we may just be your students. We may even want to be academics one day.

Please, please remember some of the things I addressed here and in my tweets (which are storified, here) when you are planning a conference.  I know I am not the only person who thinks like me and who is chronically ill and/or dis/abled and in academia. It would be nice for there to be more folks doing what they can in solidarity and in acknowledgment of the fact that not everyone has a ‘normal’ body.

This entry was posted in Academic Work, Diss/ability, PhDing (in doubt), Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Conferencing While Dis/abled

  1. kannekat says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I was wondering if you would mind sharing some thoughts on how this “translates” to smaller academic events, like small and possibly closed workshops. E.g. would you say that “outing” occasions (let’s say regarding food needs, or large print, …) become more acceptable (because of a more private atmosphere, smaller budget,…), or worse (exactly because of that more private atmosphere), or it doesn’t make a difference (because it’s a matter of principle)? I understand and respect if you don’t want to answer, but I’d be super glad and thankful if you did!

    • l0rend says:

      Hello! Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful question.

      To be honest, I’m not so sure; my inclination is to say that it shouldn’t make a difference as a matter of principle. However, it’s my experience that folks don’t tend to think about accommodations for others unless they have needed them in their own lives. I think many abled folks or folks without chronic illness view accommodations as making their jobs harder or that those needing something to be able to participate as “needing special treatment” (when that’s not the case at all). But when a precedent is set that accommodations are part of the event organizing, some of that stigma is not as apparent.

      Hopefully that makes sense?

      • kannekat says:

        Yes, thank you, it absolutely does! I take the main lesson to be that it should not be looked at so much as performing special tasks on specific occasions, but rather as forming new habits. And although I have read quite a bit on the subject, it never occurred to me to frame it in this way. (Okay, to be fair, most of what I’ve read was guidelines, and that might simply have been the wrong literary genre to start with.)

      • l0rend says:

        So glad to be helpful! 🙂

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