Tomorrow is convocation day for my Master of Arts in Critical Disability Studies in the department of Health Policy and Development at York University. It feels like a whirlwind as I had just finished my MRP and then launched into my first-year PhD study. I’m simply taking a moment to breathe before I teach my next class, wanting to think (and later write) how I ended up here. I had dreams of Adam being at my ceremony, but I checked out the schedule and it will be unbearably long for him. Instead, I ordered the video and we will watch it together. I still wonder what I can do for Adam, as a person with a disability; with the autism label. I have worked because in the end, I still hope. I hope for positive changes that will enable him, nay PERMIT him, to be in the world – be accepted in the world, as an autistic person. I don’t feel at all this convocation is about me, although I worked hard. I don’t think the convocation is an accessible event. In cases like ours, I wish Adam would be allowed to make noises, allowed to come up on the stage with me to accept the degree. Disability is still not as accepted in academia, in ceremony, as I would like it to be; as I hoped and envisioned. By stating that, I inch my way forward, in hope of change. And I use this meagre platform to say it again – that I did it for Adam and he in fact has earned it along with me. My next photo will be of Adam holding that degree with me. No achievement is accomplished alone.
I’m in Denver at the AutCOM conference, having posited the question of who gets to occupy space (and how)? At many autism-friendly conferences I attend, autistic people are permitted to get up, make noise, sleep under the table. How many times, I think, do I discipline my body to fit into spaces – in the classroom, at a luncheon, at a conference. In fact, I sit so long as a student, for instance, that I’m developing sciatica! Universal Design is about bodies – the way bodies live in space. Autistic people teach me that I’ve been trained from the time I’ve been young, to be a docile and compliant body.
There are many ways that universal design is good for business because it creates permission for bodies to act and be as they are. As a simple example, an automatic door opening is good for strollers, for when my hands are full. Thinking about universal design for all bodies is to also consider how people’s bodies can take breaks, work comfortably.
I’m putting up the video on the Ed Robert’s Campus because it helps us to reconsider space, but also permission and the disabling affects that current design restricts people from living with and among others. Although this is still a segregated campus that is arguably affordable to attend for only a few, it is an example of how easy it is to design creative spaces that enable all types of bodies to contribute and participate in society outside of restrictive normative constructs. And accommodation isn’t difficult – while designing spaces is an inclusive and creative necessity, as I mentioned, permission to allow people to use their bodies the way they need to use them, enables participation. Does anyone want to sit upside down now, or take a break under the table?
In my work now on theory, I am sharing this wonderful lecture: A Critical Intro to Foucault.
“The search for styles of existence as different as possible from one another appears to me one of the points on which contemporary research within particular groups can start. The search for a form of morality which would be acceptable to everyone – in the sense that everyone must submit to it – appears catastrophic to me.” Michel Foucault, 1984.
There’s a lot to unpack from Foucault (see Parekh’s, A conversation on madness: Foucault and Ripa in Disability & Society, 2012), but the work is substantial in our understanding of history, historicism and difference; there’s a lot to think about with regards to power, the state and the rehabilitation industry and the monolithic possibilities from diagnostic labeling. I’m currently concerned about an autism culture created in response to the medical model, and the dialectical loop this might create for the “autistic” community. It might be more “liberating” (Foucault) to move to cross-disability issues while also intertwining them with human issues of freedom (a big word) vs. control and power. Happy watching: