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03/07/2016

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De-realised in a chemistry lab

I am no philosopher, however I am a scientist with a chronic mental illness that has unfortunately stalled my academic career due to insufficient understanding of and provision for my needs.

Due to the intangibility (and quite frankly, esoteric nature) of my condition, I would be classed as "unseen" and I have often felt marginalised by colleagues, peers and the world at-large when it has been brought to light.

I'm no expert on the matter of access, visibility or resource provision but from my limited experience I would think that part of the problem is in wanting to accommodate, many institutions and spaces inadvertently end up creating a divide through a well-intended ignorance.

The person having some kind of access is simply not the same as a space, be it physical or ideological, being accessible.

Shelley Tremain

Dear De-realised,

I have tried multiple times to post this comment but have been prevented from doing so because of problems with the Typepad system. My apologies.

There is so much that could be said in response to your comment. I agree that there is a good deal of ignorance at work with respect to inaccessibility. I am less inclined than you to regard this ignorance as well-intended. I think that there is a significant epistemology of ignorance about inaccessibility and ableism in academia, in philosophy, and in society and culture more broadly.

One example of this refusal to know about ableism within philosophy and elsewhere throughout academia is the stubborn unwillingness of philosophers and other academics to think of "diversity," "inclusion," "oppression," etc. beyond race and gender. I have written about some forms that this refusal takes in philosophy in my article "Introducing Feminist Philosophy of Disability." Time and time again, discussions within the profession about diversity invariably devolve into a limited focus on these two axes of subjection. The recent article in the L.A. Times by Cherry and Schwitzgebel is a case in point, as are the responses to it on Daily Nous, facebook, and elsewhere. To his credit, Eric Schwitzgebel acknowledged on his blog The Splintered Mind that I raised this objection to him in correspondence.

The discussions of implicit bias and stereotype threat in philosophy that have preoccupied many feminist philosophers for much of the past decade have also participated in an unwillingness to recognize the forms that ableism takes and their impact, that is, they have not paid any attention to biases against disabled philosophers. The proponents of some of these discussions have speculated that their claims about gender and race likely apply to the biases that other marginalized groups in philosophy experience.

Notice, however, that this speculation assumes that the forms of bias and stereotype threat that accrue to women philosophers and philosophers of colour (groups which are not mutually exclusive from each other) ought to be regarded as paradigmatic, that biases and internalized ableism which disabled philosophers (and disabled academics more generally) experience do not differ in character or kind from biases that accrue to philosophers (and academics) due to sexism and racism (which, it must be emphasized, are not mutually exclusive to ableism).

Zara's remarks above suggest one way in which the biases and stereotype threat that disabled philosophers experience are distinct in character and in kind. In the aforementioned article, I have suggested other ways in which the biases that disabled philosophers confront are distinct in character and kind from the biases that have, to date, been identified in the literature on implicit biases and stereotype threat.

Another form of epistemological ignorance about the rampant ableism in philosophy is the continued unwillingness to genuinely examine the structures that exclude philosophy of disability and other theoretical analyses of disability from what are deemed requisite or "core" areas of the discipline (another topic that I discuss at length in the aforementioned article, especially with respect to the structure of the PhilPapers and PhilJobs databases). And, of course, there is the continued inaccessibility of the main professional associations for philosophers which most philosophers seem content to ignore!

I think that we must work simultaneously at the level of the individual and the level of the collective to change the current grievous situation of disabled philosophers and disabled academics in general. With Foucault, I think that force relations are both individualizing and totalizing and, in this way, force relations at the micro-level of the individual make possible, reinforce, and sustain force relations on a broader scale.

I'm very glad that you took the time to contribute to the work of this blog, even though you are not a philosopher. You are always welcome here.

Komarine

"I propose that a good place to start would be something like an imperative of accessibility, or an accessibility heuristic. Access must cease to be something anomalous that follows around the one in twenty professional philosophers, or one in ten disabled students, who are willing (or have no choice but) to disclose differentiated access needs. Access ought, instead, be something that we as a philosophical community are committed to thinking about and implementing out of a recognition that this is what justice seems to require, at least as far as the law is concerned, and even if political and other philosophers have not yet quite caught up with it."

I completely agree. It would be good to have some sort of database (constantly developing and update-able) that gives information about access requirements for conference organisers to consult, which could function as a sort of accessibility standard. Do you know of anywhere that this is being developed? I know of piecemeal efforts to do this, but a shared resource of some kind that people can add to would be very useful.

I have a general gripe with the fact that doing professional philosophy often requires hours and activities beyond work (conferences, informal networking, etc.) in ways that disadvantage various groups of people. I'd been thinking particularly of carers, but obviously, it also is a problem for people who have to conserve their energy, or for other reasons find it difficult to be in the pub chatting, etc. I don't know what to suggest about this, but it would be good for academics to think long and hard about this.

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