Before you study the assigned resources for this module, let’s pause and think about access and ableism.  Discussions of accessibility emphasize how physical barriers, such as stairs or narrow hallways, make spaces inaccessible but also how ideas or ideologies limit people’s access.  For example, the idea that disability is an impairment, a limitation, a disadvantage, or an inspiration contributes to inaccessibility and reproduces ideas about normality or what is normal and abnormal.  Ableism refers to an ideology that views disability as a disadvantage or defectiveness relative to ‘normal’ people.

A social approach to disability emphasizes that every person has access needs — things that make a space, learning environment, working environment or social environment more or less accessible.  Take a moment to reflect. What are your access needs when it comes to learning? For example, consider a classroom. Classrooms have desks for people who need to sit while they learn, tabletops so people can rest paper on to write, screens for visual learners, sound systems for auditory learners.  Which of these do you need to access a classroom? How do you move through a classroom? What kinds of physical structures make a space accessible?  If a classroom has stairs, narrow doorways, and no aisles, a wheelchair user cannot access the space freely. What do you need in order to make online learning accessible? Try to make a list.

Disability activists ask, why stairs and not ramps? Whereas ramps function well for most, stairs exclude many.  Sally Chivers writes: “The choice [between stairs and ramps] is supposedly aesthetic, but it is not at all clear on what basis steps are more beautiful than slopes” (311).  What kinds of attitudes make a classroom feel accessible for you?  Thinking about access involves structuring working, learning, social, and activist spaces to accommodate various needs.  In the video below, Patty Berne and Stacey Milbern of Sins Invalid discuss ableism. Watch this video before you move on to the reading by Danielle Peers and Lindsay Eales about the ways queer spaces can reinforce ableism.

“New York Subway Stairs” by derekskey is licensed under CC BY 2.0 & “Wheelchair ramp” by waitscm is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Ableism is the Bane of my Motherfuckin’ Existence” by Patty Berne and Stacey Milbern of Sins Invalid
View Time: 4:44 minutes
Danielle Peers and Lindsay Eales,
“‘Stand Up’ for Exclusion?”

As you read:

  • Reflect on Peers and Eales’s critique of the ways even seemingly ‘progressive’ and social justice oriented spaces and groups perpetuate ableism and exclusion.
  • Note their explanation of Robert McRuer’s work Crip Theory, which critiques the ways queer politics and scholarship erases disability.

Find the reading by Peers and Eales on eClass in the “Beyond the Queer Alphabet” eBook or download a copy of the open access book here.

Eli Clare,
“The Mountain”
by Eli Clare

Next, you will read “The Mountain” by Eli Clare from Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation (CW: sexual abuse). In the introduction to their book, Clare defines the “supercrip”: the inspirational disabled person who ‘overcomes’ their disability. Ultimately, Clare argues that the “supercrip” functions to “reinforce the superiority of the non disabled body and mind” (2).

As you read:

  • Reflect on stories of Canadian “supercrips” like Terry Fox and Rick Hansen. How have these stories shaped your understanding of yourself or others?
  • Notice the distinction between the language of impairment and disability (page 6).
  • Notice Clare’s discussion of testing. In your own experience, how do tests and exams perpetuate ableism? (page 6).
  • Reflect on Clare’s rejection of narratives of pity and tragedy, but also of inspiration. What is the solution to these oppressive discourses, in Clare’s view?
  • Pay attention to Clare’s discussion of bodies and how “bodies are never singular” (11).
  • Think about how Clare’s essay represents a disability justice approach.

CONTENT WARNING: sexual abuse (page 10, paragraph 2 under ‘Home’)