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Identity and Representation in the 2017 Disability March

Talea Anderson

Literature Review

Disability and Online Protest

As a final lens for analyzing the Disability March, this webtext will consider the accessibility of the website where the protest was hosted. Research in this area has considered how poor web accessibility can hamper participation in virtual spaces. For instance, Jin Huang and Baorong Guo (2005) pointed out technological and socioeconomic barriers to inclusion in digital settings. M. Remi Yergeau et al. (2013) outlined the ways that disabled people are disadvantaged in kairotic spaces—which include protests like the Disability March—when information is shared in ways that privilege particular abilities. The authors criticized the trend toward retrofitting websites and technologies to permit disabled people to use them, noting that this practice "presumes that disabled people do not exist unless they reveal themselves—at which point, they need able-bodied people to help them assimilate" (Yergeau et al., "Rehabilitation ≠ what we do").

Hamraie (2017) further noted how disability rights advocacy has often been subsumed by "Universal Design" discourses. Universal Design purported to be a means of designing everything including websites to include all people but, as Hamraie argued, this liberal ideology failed to acknowledge a history in which particular bodies were devalued. It also left unquestioned assumptions about "productive citizenship," namely that the goal of access should be "productive labor… wealth accumulation, homeownership, and consumerism" (p. 10). Hamraie called for attention to these assumptions that have become entangled with discussions about web accessibility, noting that "struggles for access, belonging, and citizenship" often do not occur along a "linear march toward progress" (p. 257).

While Yergeau et al. (2013) and Hamraie (2017) remained critical of the ableist structures that undergird web development generally, others have pointed to the possibility for inclusion presented by social justice work organized online. Benjamin Mann (2018) examined the Disability March and argued that the participants in the protest used rhetorical strategies such as disability disclosure to meaningfully challenge "disabling institutions and impediments to social activism." Mann concluded that the Disability March created a space where protestors were able to effectively demonstrate how their disabilities prevented them from participating in mainstream protest. As a result, readers of the website could "better understand broader instances of ableism while simultaneously engaging with individual perspectives."

While acknowledging Mann's more optimistic reading of inclusion in the Disability March, this webtext will supplement readings of the visual and linguistic rhetoric utilized in the protest with an examination of accessibility on the Disability March website. Taken together, these three analytical lenses provide a nuanced reading on representations of disability in this particular online protest.

Accessibility Highlight Video: Page Width (Transcript)