disability and kairotic spaces

reason

accommodating

rehab ≠ what we do

self-advocacy

co-production

A stadium light with several lightbulbs -- half of the bulbs are lit, and half are burned out.
melanie yergeau » reason » accommodating

Accommodating

Drawing upon Adrienne Rich's 1987 "Notes Toward a Politics of Location," Peter Vandenberg et al. (2006) maintained that "many compositionists see the physical body as the place where theory is actualized. One's body defines a point of location relative to others, a sense of where from which one can act through language" (p. 12). When we exclude bodies from the design of social and virtual spaces—indeed, from the design of theory itself, from the design of genre and form and "what mode for what purpose"—we reflect and enforce able-bodied privilege. Design is a relational infrastructure, an act of embodiment and reclamation. Here I want to echo Jay Dolmage's (2009) call to "recognize the disability that geography makes and the geography that disability makes" in the design of pedagogical and digital spaces (p. 170). That is, if we take seriously what Dolmage said about exclusionary spaces and practices, we can begin to observe the normative map of composition studies, a map that suggests some bodies and some minds just need, as Andrea Lunsford (1979/1997) once put it, "more practice" (p. 285).

This is accommodation: attempting to revise a canvas colored in permanent ink.

Permanence tells me that I have an autistic bodymind. I have documentation attesting my permanence. The pages detail my incurable condition and some of the challenges I encounter in school and workplace environments. These pages likewise provide suggestions for reasonable accommodations, suggestions for mapping in my problemed body. When I first met with a disability services counselor several years back, she put a lot of emphasis on the word reasonable. As the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) notes, if an accommodation causes an employer undue hardship, or, in a university context, if an accommodation is perceived to alter the nature or rigor of an assignment or course, that accommodation can be denied (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2002).

Perhaps because of this daunting emphasis on reasonableness, I didn't seek out accommodations until I was a PhD student. The reasons are manifold, but the primary reason had to do with shame: I was trained to be shameful of my need for special requests, trained to be ashamed for the ways in which I communicate, process, and create meaning. In short, I was trained to believe that what I needed in order to learn was not reasonable—to accommodate me would distort the geography of an otherwise humming, happy university.

Once I did begin to request accommodations, I encountered further difficulties with the notion of what was reasonable in the classroom. Because of my difficulties with nonverbals and auditory processing, one of my accommodation requests was a more orderly face-to-face system for class discussions, one in which I might raise my hand or type something on my laptop and show it to another person. But this particular request was not always well received. For example, in one class I took, a professor refused to call on raised hands because he felt it interrupted the natural flow of conversation. Two weeks before the term ended, the disability services office managed to convince this professor that my request didn’t lessen the rigor of the class. And this experience made me feel terrible about myself—I was somehow asking for unreasonable changes to a reasonable curriculum.

I relate this story in order to make a point: When we say no to accommodation requests (whether through official channels or not), we do so because we believe such things might alter the fundamental nature of our courses, or even the fundamental nature of our professional spaces. And when we say yes to these requests, we generally do so because we believe nothing fundamental has been altered. But that, to me, is the sticky point: For a field that’s all about changing the fundamental nature of things, we’re really not all about changing the fundamental nature of things.