“Too many wheelchairs”

That was the judgment of the CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) supervisor last evening at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.  “They can go through the lines like everybody else.”  So they closed the booth dedicated to processing people in wheelchairs, though later opened it up to the general public, approximately 99.5% of whom were not in wheel chairs.

I arrived at the figure above from the simple fact that there were about 500 people in line before me and no one else was in a wheel chair.

It is quite possible that there would have been wheel chair assisted passengers had they closed the special booth earlier, instead of right before me.  But I had spent about 30 min waiting to be assisted through customs, and I didn’t see anyone get help before me.  That was what made made the roughly one hour processing so painful; I wasn’t pushing myself, and the woman who was should have been able to get back to others.

So if you ever get the idea that it would be easier and quicker to get wheel chair assistance, let me say that is not my experience at Heathrow or Bush Intercontinental.  There are several points at which one sits around for 15-45 minutes waiting for someone to be free to help you. These add up.

Still, I resisted snarling at someone who got a wheel chair clearly destined for me, ‘Do you have a card?’ while waving my authorization.

And I remain amazed that we have yet another case of the fairly careless assumption that people with needs are seen as trying just to avoid what everyone else copes with. In comparison, the TSA’s response to my setting off alarms (artificial knee) was exemplary.

(In case you are wondering, let me say that my knee replacement surgery went as well as could be expected, but if you haven’t been walking properly for 3 years, coping with long distances and long lines requires more recovery time than I have had so far. This trip was almost too soon after surgery.)

Disability and Graduate School Considerations

Helen de Cruz has a great post up at NewAPPS that discusses, among other things, why graduate students might opt to attend unranked programs.


Another, often overlooked, consideration in play for some graduate students is disability. Some campuses are more friendly and accommodating to students with particular kinds of disabilities, some local communities have more resources than others, some states have policies that make it easier to be funded by vocational rehabilitation than others, some states (in the U.S.) provide tuition waivers to students with certain disabilities, and so on.


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Cochlear Implants, Viral Videos, and Sexism

Once again a video of the miracle of hearing via cochlear implants has gone viral. I find this bothersome, but not for the reasons you might think, given that I’m a member of the signing Deaf* community, a bioethicist, and philosopher. Instead, I’m annoyed by the framing of the cochlear implant narratives and the gendered aspects of cochlear implant videos that go viral.


Before I say more, I want to note that I am delighted and touched by the joy of the cochlear implant recipient, Joanne Milne. Joanne Milne has had a life-changing experience. Most hearing people will watch the video, appreciate her happiness, and perhaps reflect on their own capacity to hear. I hope that we can push the conversation further along here at Feminist Philosophers.

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What is it like to do a PhD with disability & chronic illness?

bw2fa7xcqaad-qe[1]@zaranosaur‘s own experiences with having to juggle her chronic illness while trying to do a PhD led her to start a blog on just that: what it’s like to do a PhD with a disability & chronic illness with the accompanying twitter ID @PhDisabled. From the website:

The experiences of disabled PhD students are seldom heard in the world at large.  This is despite the fact that there are many out there whose doctoral efforts are inextricably shaped by their experience as PhD students with disability or chronic illness.

Our goal is to create a space for PhD students with disability or chronic illness to share their experiences.  It is only by sharing these experiences that we realise that we who walk this path are not alone.  It is only by sharing these experiences, by beginning to talk openly about them, that we can hope that things will one day improve.

We welcome submissions from all PhD students, past, present or otherwise, on all aspects of the experience at the intersection of academia, disability and chronic illness.

People are invited to share their stories and the response is overwhelming. Also check out the hashtag #AcademicAbleism.

Defer to the Deaf Person: Interpreters and Quality Control

The story about the charlatan “signed language interpreter” at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service raises awareness about a problem that’s received little attention in mainstream media. This is the problem of signed language interpreter quality control. This is a huge issue in many deaf communities, but I want to focus on the version of the problem that comes up for deaf academics, including deaf philosophers.

Highly professional signed language interpreters follow professional codes of ethics tenets stating interpreters should not accept assignments they aren’t qualified for.

From what I’ve been able to determine, the man who waved his hands around at Mandela’s service was not a signed language interpreter at all, but merely trying to pass as one.  That’s an extreme version of the problem of  ‘Bad Fit to the Assignment’.

The more common version of the ‘Bad Fit to the Assignment’ problem encountered by deaf academics is the interpreter who accepts an assignment for which she is not qualified.

Sometimes this happens by accident – perhaps vital information about the assignment was not supplied  to the interpreter when she made the decision to accept the assignment. Sometimes this happens by hubris – I’ve seen more than a few cocky interpreters who think they can handle anything melt down during philosophy colloquia, both during the reading of the paper and the Q&A. Sometimes this happens because the person handling the request for interpreter accommodations makes mistakes or bad decisions.

When a deaf academic decides to attend an academic event outside of her home community, the process goes something like this.

  1. See if the conference/workshop/annual meeting registration form lists a contact person for disability accommodations.
  2. If there is no conference/workshop/annual meeting contact person on the registration form or conference website, expect to invest some hours identifying this person. Seasoned academics with disabilities will recognize this as the point when one mentally allocates a portion of one’s free time to the ‘job’ of being disabled.
  3. After the contact person is identified, make the request for accommodations, providing as much detail as possible. E.g. if I’m requesting an interpreter for a conference in London, I make a special point of emphasizing that I will need an interpreter for American Sign Language (ASL)  (BSL) –English not British Sign Language-English. (ASL and BSL are two completely different sign languages, they use different alphabets, and don’t even come from the same language family!). The deaf academic should also inform the contact person that she expects to be involved in the process of identifying and vetting the signed language interpreter.

Once the request gets underway, this is where things fall apart.

How to avoid this?

Here’s what you can do as a conference/workshop/annual meeting/colloquium organizer to make a better experience for everyone.

  1. First, involve the deaf person. In particular, deaf academics often have networks of interpreters and other deaf academics who are familiar with the local pool of interpreters and who is qualified to interpret high register academic discourse. Do not brush off the deaf person’s offer of assistance by telling her that you or your university will handle this yourself — even if you happen to be fluent in the local community signed language. Ask us what we need and communicate with us about possible constraints (not just money, but local resources). Odds are good that we’ve encountered similar problems before and may have some solutions.
  2. Don’t try to save money by doing the legwork yourself, e.g. contacting your niece’s friend who interprets at her church every Sunday. Even if the niece’s friend is certified through say, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID is a US American professional organization for signed language interpreters), she may still not have the qualifications and skills necessary to interpret the assignment. Interpreting philosophy is both demanding and difficult. Many topnotch interpreters won’t take on this kind of highly specialized assignment for fear their skills may not be up to the task.
  3. Trust the deaf academic’s assessment. If the deaf academic turns down an interpreter, do not ignore this and substitute your own judgment regarding whether or not the interpreter is suitable for the assignment. This holds even if say, your home university tries to foist a specific interpreter on the deaf academic. Interpreters are NOT fungible. There may be reasons beyond skill level for rejecting an interpreter – sometimes it is a matter of concerns about confidentiality, sometimes there are reasons of gender preference, sometimes there are concerns about the interpreter’s professionalism.

Last but not least: a reminder, followed by a coda*:

  • Deaf and hard of hearing people have long been excluded from things that concern us – witness the frequency at which we see/hear the phrases “Never mind”, “I’ll tell you later” and “It’s not important”. This pattern also gets extended to our accessibility accommodations. Our expertise is often dismissed (implicit bias, anyone?) even when we are the best person on the planet to make such judgments. (As a personal aside, my professional judgment has been dismissed out of hand (ahem) – and I’ve created much of the ASL philosophical lexicon currently in use.)
  • If you want to be an ally to deaf academics, recognize us as experts in not just our academic discipline, but in our own accessibility accommodations.

*Insider joke for deafies.

‘Don’t call me Freakface’: Changing Faces campaign

I can’t say I’m very familiar with Moshi Monsters, but I know how massively popular it is. So it seems important that it shouldn’t reinforce deeply unpleasant stereotypes about people with disfigurements by using character descriptions like ‘Bruiser’s scarred skin makes for a scary sight’. The charity Changing Faces is launching a campaign to change that:

Changing Faces, the national disfigurement charity, is launching a new campaign, ‘Don’t call me Freakface’.  It is calling on Mind Candy, the creators of Moshi Monsters, to stop using names like ‘Freakface’ which are common terms of abuse towards children with disfigurements.  It is also asking Mind Candy to stop using scars, spots and missing eyes to emphasize the evil nature of their bad characters.

There’s more in James Partridge’s blog post, including Mind Candy’s responses.  And for more on why it matters, see our post ‘Moving beyond the stereotypes‘.

Teaching disability: a resource

At the impetus of the eternally awesome Sally Haslanger, a group of philosophers have been working on a crowdsource project called ‘Disability Resources for the Philosophy Classroom‘. The idea is to provide useful information and suggestions for those who want both to incorporate discussion of disability into their philosophy classes and to make those classes more accessible to people with disabilities. This is a crowdsource project – anyone with the link above can edit the document. That means it will be as good and helpful as well all collectively make it. Please have a look and, if you have suggested additions, take a few minutes to add them!

One thing that should be noted, though, is that the point of this resource is to help make philosophy classes more inclusive (both in content and delivery) for people with disabilities. It perhaps goes without saying – but I’ll say it anyway – that not all philosophy that discusses disability does so in a way that’s inclusive. In fact, many philosophical discussions of disability can come across as hostile and deeply hurtful to disabled people. That’s not to say that we don’t want any such controversial resources added to the document. But we would ask, if you’re adding a resource that expresses attitudes about disability which may be upsetting to disabled people or express discriminatory ideas about disability, that you add an explicit warning about this.

Note: Pictures of Braille Don’t Do the Job

OTTAWA—The federal Conservatives have run into a bit of an obstacle in their bid to tell blind Canadians how much they’re doing for them.
They have mass-mailed a flyer with wording that only looks like Braille — without the raised, tactile lettering that blind people need in order to read.

From here. (Thanks, Mr Jender!)

Texas filibuster rules

There’s a good run down of Texas’ rules for filibuster here (which gives you a better idea of the massive, heroic task that Wendy Davis undertook for her state). But as has been discussed in the comments here, these rules for filibuster seem remarkably, shockingly ableist. Conditions laid down for filibuster include:

Rule 3.02 prohibits eating or drinking in the Senate chamber.

Rule 4.01 requires a member of the Senate to stand at his or her desk to address the Senate. The member speaking may not sit, lean, or use a desk or chair in any way. Bathroom breaks are not allowed.

Rule 4.03, which governs the interruption of a member who is speaking, allows other senators to raise objections if a speaker does not confine his or her remarks to the issue under consideration or if his or her voice is inaudible.

So you cannot filibuster if you are a wheelchair user. You cannot filibuster if you are hypoglycemic. You cannot filibuster if you use various types of mobility aid. You cannot filibuster if you have such a stunning array of disabilities that the mind boggles.

How is the legal? That’s not rhetoic, that’s a serious question. How are these rules not a flagrant violation of the ADA?