disability and kairotic spaces
A white intercom box, mounted on a wall. The top of the box is a speaker, and the control panel sits on the bottom. There are three buttons: listen, talk, and entry.


Because this project is grounded in disability studies (DS), the reader will find occasional uses of terms that are common in DS. What follows is a brief glossary of DS-specific terms.

Ableism // The relationship between disability discourse and dominant culture is consistent with any subaltern discourse: power elides its functioning and those on the dominant side are unable to see their privilege. White privilege, male privilege, middle-class values, “normal” bodies all share the privileged space of default status. In the Differend, Jean Francois Lyotard (1988) articulated this gulf of language that changes perception between the powerful and the powerless, mentioning the challenges of labor in discussion with capital, brown bodies in discussion with white, female representing their experience to male, queer to straight. Interestingly, Lyotard omitted disability discourse. Ableism defines “normal” narrowly, and provides an important position from which to shine light on gaps in language and power. It is at the site of ableism where power reveals itself.

Read more about ableism »

Accommodation // An accommodation is a change made to some aspect of an environment, intended to make that environment more accessible. The term accommodation is usually used in reference to disability—for example, "A blind person may need a screen reader as an accommodation in order to access webtexts."  As this example shows, accommodations are usually discussed in terms of individuals' needs; thus, they tend to locate a disabled individual as a problem, even when this is not the intention.  Related terms include access and assistive.

Bodymind // A term sometimes used in trauma theory and psychotherapy. Margaret Price (2011) defined the term as follows:

I use the term bodymind to emphasize that although “body” and “mind” usually occupy separate conceptual and linguistic territories, they are deeply intertwined. This theory is drawn in part from Babette Rothschild’s The Body Remembers. Although Rothschild’s usage refers to persons who have experienced trauma, I believe it can be usefully applied to persons with mental disabilities of all kinds, for—as I argue throughout this book—our problems are in no sense “all in our minds.” If it weren’t so unwieldy, I would be tempted to use something like psychobiosocialpoliticalbodymind. (p. 240)

Consumer/Survivor/Ex-Patient Movement // A social movement of current and former consumers of mental health care and their allies. The movement seeks to improve mental health care and to increase alternative treatment options and paths to wellness. Linda Morrison has identified the movement's goals as: "claiming voice, gaining access to knowledge, claiming and protecting rights, challenging oppressive authority, exposing abuse, and creating choice by developing opportunities for alternatives and self-determination" (99). Individuals' views within the movement are diverse and range from conservative to radical.

Kairotic space // In kairotic space, events unfold in a spontaneous, often socially inflected manner, while knowledge is produced and power is exchanged. Examples of kairotic spaces in academe include job interviews, Q&A sessions after conference panels, and professional cocktail parties. While kairotic space often involves in-person contact, that is not always the case; job interviews, for instance, may take place by telephone or Skype. The key defining element of kairotic space in academe is the pairing of spontaneity with high levels of professional impact.

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Normate // Coined by Rosemarie Garland-Thomson in Extraordinary Bodies (1997). Garland-Thomson explained: The normate represents a "mutually constituting" figure existing opposite the disabled figure. The normate is

the veiled subject position of cultural self, the figure outlined by the array of deviant others whose marked bodies shore up the normate’s boundaries. The term normate usefully designates the social figure through which people can represent themselves as definitive human beings. Normate, then, is the constructed identity of those who, by way of the bodily configurations and cultural capital they assume, can step into a position of authority and wield the power it grants them. … The normate subject position emerges … only when we scrutinize the social processes and discourses that constitute physical and cultural otherness. (p. 8)

Nothing about us without us // A common slogan in disability activism, first used in the 1970s, "nothing about us without us" refers to the need for any policy affecting disabled people to include input and representation from those who have disabilities, thus challenging the paternalistic nature of many such laws and policies. Its rise is detailed in James Charlton's (1998) Nothing about us without us: Disability oppression and empowerment

Psychiatric disability // This term refers to experiences and disorders that are often referred to as mental illnesses. Many disability scholars and activists object to the term mental illness because it emphasizes a biomedical approach to disability that focuses exclusively on fixing or curing disabliity rather than understanding or integrating disability. In contrast to this biomedical perspective, the term psychiatric disability includes sociocultural understandings of mental difference and distress. Activists in the consumer/survivor/ex-patient movement have advocated for terminology that is more inclusive than mental illness.

Retrofit // Jay Dolmage’s (2007) "Mapping Composition: Inviting Disability in the Front Door" explained that "to retrofit is to add a component or accessory to something that has already been manufactured or built. This retrofit does not necessarily make the product function, does not necessarily fix a faulty product, but it acts as a sort of correction" (p. 20). Retrofitting is an approach to providing access that the authors of this webtext view critically. We advocate for design that plans for users with disabilities, rather than creating add-ons or fixes that attempt to modify inaccessible spaces and texts after their creation.

Read more about retrofitting »

Safer spaces // This term describes spaces that are both welcoming and physically accessible; it emphasizes that the attitudes we hold toward our disabled colleagues and students are important to the types of communities we create. The term safer (rather than safe) refers to the idea that no space is ever truly safe for all possible users/participants, and as such it emphasizes flexibility and adaptability for a variety of users and participants. The term safer also encourages an attitude of improvement and the idea that creating accessible spaces is a process of evolving attitudes and practices, rather than an unattainable end goal in which a space is fully welcome and accessible to all people at all times.