Inclusive Meetings, Classes, and Presentations with Access Notes, Bodymind Affirmations, and Small Changes

I’ve noticed a trend among neurodivergent and disabled speakers, notably Lydia X. Z. Brown and Jonathan Mooney, of prefacing their presentations with an access note and a bodymind affirmation. They encourage people, be it in an auditorium or a group video chat, to move around and get comfortable.

I believe we should all move in our space in whatever way is most comfortable for our bodyminds.

Please use this space as you need or prefer.

Sit in chairs or on the floor, pace, lie on the floor, rock, flap, spin, move around, come in and out of the room.

This is an invitation for you to consider what your bodymind needs to be as comfortable as possible in this moment.

This is an invitation to remind yourself to remember and to affirm that your bodymind has needs and that those needs deserve to be met, that your bodymind is valuable and worthy, that you deserve to be here, …, to belong.

Source: Against Ableism & White Supremacy: Disability Justice is Our Liberation – YouTube

I know that I myself could not sit still in a room like this for even 15 seconds. So if you are like me and you need to take a break during my presentation, that’s all good. You need to go to the back of the room and pace back and forth, I won’t be offended. You need to leave the room, it’s all good. I myself may wander off in the middle of my presentation, and you all will be accepting, inclusive, and accommodating of that for sure. (Laughter) But, hey, you know what, this is your time.

Source: Lab School Lecture Series – Jonathan Mooney – YouTube

We Stimpunks really like and appreciate these affirmations and need the access and understanding they offer, both online and in physical space. We bring our whole bodyminds — stims, senses, perceptual worlds, and all — to every learning experience.

Though autistic people live in the same physical world and deal with the same ‘raw material’, their perceptual world turns out to be strikingly different from that of non-autistic people.

Source: Sensory Perceptual Issues in Autism and Asperger Syndrome, Second Edition: Different Sensory Experiences – Different Perceptual Worlds eBook: Bogdashina, Olga, Casanova, Manuel

Where disability comes into the picture is thinking about how someone’s body or mind might function best in an environment, a built environment or an emotional or communicative environment or infrastructure that perhaps wasn’t designed to begin with with that particular person’s bodily capacity or neurodivergence in mind.

Source: Making Work Accessible, Wherever it Happens – Distributed.blog

Flexibility makes a big difference in inclusion. Small changes have big impact.

Small changes that can easily be made to accommodate autism really do add up and can transform a young person’s experience of being in hospital. It really can make all the difference.

Autism + environment = outcome

Source: “It’s Not Rocket Science” – NDTi

Our family, by necessity, near constantly advocates and negotiates for these small changes. Small changes go a long way to bringing the access promised in access notes and bodymind affirmations.

For example, making cameras optional during video classes is a small change that makes a huge difference for us.

So I repeat my one small but crucial piece of advice (more than advice: it’s an admonition): Make cameras optional.

We should treat video presence in our online Fall emergency distance education courses in the way we treat all accessibility, building in digital accommodations in the way one would physical. If you or your institution requires presence, offer alternative forms for students for whom presence means disenfranchisement, hardship, shame, or lack of participation (ie. bandwidth–I had to turn off my video yesterday at our FI staff meeting in order that we could hear better). This is an opportunity for digital literacy and for demonstrating your concern for learning. What are your system’s capacities? Perhaps, if a student doesn’t want to be seen or cannot be, subtitles are the answer. Maybe chat. Maybe blogs before class or texting. There one that matters most: how can you, as an educator, find an open, equitable way to help students learn what you most want to offer them.

Source: Cameras Optional, Please! Remembering Student Lives As We Plan Our Online Syllabus | HASTAC

A “cameras on” policy for classes and presentations, especially when the camera is used to enforce neurotypical notions of attention, is ableist and exclusionary.

For those of us with stims deemed anti-social, like nose-picking and scalp-gouging, turning off the camera allows us to stim and regulate without judgment, stigma, or distracting others. Stimming is an adaptive coping mechanism necessary to managing sensory overwhelm and attention. Making us sit still, in frame, on camera, suppressing stims is no way to learn.

A hostile learning environment, whether at home, school, or work, is a place where fear elicits the self-censoring instinct and shuts down the learning process.

Learners rarely put forth the effort to learn unless learner safety is in place. It’s a “build it and they will come” principle. If you don’t build it, they may still come, but they won’t learn.

Source: The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety (pp. 44-47)

In addition to allowing cameras off, complementing video chats with a text backchannel makes all the difference to including us. Before retiring, I had difficulties navigating the rise of video conferencing. Like Vint Cerf, I found it to be a huge challenge.

Around 1971, Ray Tomlinson developed the idea of networked electronic mail, which was hugely attractive to me because it replaced uncertain voice calls with the clarity of text. The development of the Internet was undertaken in the context of heavy use of email.

The rise of video conferencing has actually been a huge challenge for me as it reintroduces some of the uncertainty of voice calling and I look forward to real-time, automatic captioning to overcome the limitations that medium poses for me.

Source: Vint Cerf on accessibility, the cello and noisy hearing aids

Luckily, at the time, I was on a team that appreciated neurodiversity, differentiated instruction, and accessibility. We alternated meetings between video and text, allowed cameras off, and used a backchannel so I could type instead of talk during video sessions. Situational mutism marked my childhood and strikes me still, especially on group video.

And that’s not even touching on the ways this kind of technology supports the shy user, the user with speech issues, the user having trouble with the English Language, the user who’d rather be able to think through and even edit a statement or question before asking it.

Source: SpeEdChange: Bringing the “Back Channel” Forward

Let us stim. Let us move. Let us be kinetic. Let us turn off the camera. Let us type to talk. Don’t force us into non-compliance to meet our needs.

Our non-compliance is not intended to be rebellious. We simply do not comply with things that harm us. But since a great number of things that harm us are not harmful to most neurotypicals, we are viewed as untamed and in need of straightening up.

Source: THINKING PERSON’S GUIDE TO AUTISM: On Hans Asperger, the Nazis, and Autism: A Conversation Across Neurologies

Make the small changes now, and affirm our divergent bodyminds as valid and belonging and not in need of straightening up.

Foster inclusion and belonging with an access note and bodymind affirmation at the beginning of your class, meeting, or presentation.

I’ll be using Lydia X. Z. Brown’s affirmation as a template:

I believe we should all move in our space in whatever way is most comfortable for our bodyminds.

Please use this space as you need or prefer.

Sit in chairs or on the floor, pace, lie on the floor, rock, flap, spin, move around, come in and out of the room.

This is an invitation for you to consider what your bodymind needs to be as comfortable as possible in this moment.

This is an invitation to remind yourself to remember and to affirm that your bodymind has needs and that those needs deserve to be met, that your bodymind is valuable and worthy, that you deserve to be here, …, to belong.

Source: Against Ableism & White Supremacy: Disability Justice is Our Liberation – YouTube

Defining Ableism

Excerpted below are quotes from community writing and scholarly studies on the definition, history, and forms of ableism.

Content notes: ableism, racism, sexism, white supremacy, slavery, ABA, cure, defectiveness, eugenics, scientific racism, torture, murder, police violence, state violence, suicide, institutionalization, imprisonment

Ableism

A system that places value on people’s bodies and minds based on societally constructed ideas of normality, intelligence, excellence, desirability, and productivity. These constructed ideas are deeply rooted in anti-Blackness, eugenics, misogyny, colonialism, imperialism and capitalism.

This form of systemic oppression leads to people and society determining who is valuable and worthy based on a person’s language, appearance, religion and/or their ability to satisfactorily [re]produce, excel and “behave.”

You do not have to be disabled to experience ableism.

Source: January 2021 Working Definition of Ableism – TL’s BLOG – TALILA A. LEWIS

Ableism

  1. Oppression, prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination against disabled people on the basis of actual or presumed disability.
  2. The belief that people are superior or inferior, have better quality of life, or have lives more valuable or worth living on the basis of actual or perceived disability.

Source: Autistic Hoya — A blog by Lydia X. Z. Brown: Definitions

Ableism is a set of beliefs or practices that devalue and discriminate against people with physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disabilities and often rests on the assumption that disabled people need to be ‘fixed’ in one form or the other. Ableism is intertwined in our culture, due to many limiting beliefs about what disability does or does not mean, how able-bodied people learn to treat people with disabilities and how we are often not included at the table for key decisions.

Source: Ableism – Center for Disability Rights

Ableism – The practices and dominant attitudes in society that devalue and limit the potential of persons with disabilities. A set of practices and beliefs that assign inferior value (worth) to people who have developmental, emotional, physical or psychiatric disabilities.

Disablism – A set of assumptions (conscious or unconscious) and practices that promote the differential or unequal treatment of people because of actual or presumed disabilities.

Source: What Is Ableism? | Stop Ableism

Ableism is an entire system of thinking and doing that hurts disabled people/people with disabilities.

Ableism is a form of systemic, structural, and institutional oppression.

Ableism is racist and white supremacist.

It is anti-Black and anti-Native.

Ableism is capitalist. Ableism is eugenicist.

Ableism is a system of power differentials and power relations, where people whose body minds are considered healthy, whole, functional, sane, stable, strong, and intelligent are granted enormous political, social, cultural, and economic power at the direct expense of people whose body minds are instead deemed sick, broken, defective, diseased, disordered, deficient, weak, unstable, and stupid.

Ableism teaches us which kinds of people count as human and which do not.

Ableism teaches us which kinds of people ought to be allowed to live, to breathe, and to be, and which ought not.

Ableism teaches us which kinds of people should reproduce and which kinds of people should be reproduced.

Ableism teaches us which kinds of children should be allowed to be born and which people ought to be allowed to have children in the first place.

Ableism teaches us who is considered valuable, worthy, and desirable and who is considered expendable and disposable.

Ableism teaches us who is worth living and saving and who, instead, is acceptable collateral damage.

Ableism is at its core a system of oppression that is rooted in, connected to, inextricably tied to, dependent on, and necessary for every other form of oppression.

In particular, ableism is virulently racist and white supremacist.

In particular, in this country, it is anti-Black and anti-Native.

Source: Against Ableism & White Supremacy: Disability Justice is Our Liberation – YouTube

Ableism is not a list of bad words. Language is *one* tool of an oppressive system. Being aware of language — for those of us who have the privilege of being able to change our language — can help us understand how pervasive ableism is. Ableism is systematic, institutional devaluing of bodies and minds deemed deviant, abnormal, defective, subhuman, less than. Ableism is *violence.*

Source: Autistic Hoya — A blog by Lydia X. Z. Brown: Ableism/Language

Ableism is not “bad words.” It’s violence.

Ableism is the violence in the clinic, in the waiting room, in the social welfare lines, in the classroom, in the recess yard, in the bedroom, in the prisons, in the streets. Ableism is the violence (and threat of violence) we live with each day.

Ableism is the constant apologetics for family members and caregivers who murder their disabled relatives — they must have had it so hard, it must have been such a burden, you musn’t judge unless you’ve walked in their shoes. (In the last few decades, more than 400 disabled people were murdered by relatives or caregivers, and those are only the stories we know about.)

Ableism is the fact that a police officer who shot an unarmed Black man with his hands up decided it made more sense to claim he was actually aiming for the Brown autistic man holding a toy truck beside the Black man.

Ableism is the fact that anywhere from around 40% to 70% of U.S. prisoners are also disabled, and that the forces of white supremacy, racism, and capitalism that keep poor Black and Brown people in prisons are necessarily intertwined with ableist presuppositions about intelligence and emotional capacity. (And that all incarcerated people — disabled or not — as well as many free disabled people can be paid, completely legally, only a few cents per hour for menial labor, and that this is called opportunity and teaching work ethic.)

Ableism is the fact that it is totally legal to torture disabled people in the name of treatment and help and “for your own good” — everywhere from the daily ABA torture sessions focused on normalization at the expense of our own mental health to the extremes of the Judge Rotenberg Center where we are shocked even for flapping or moving out of our seats.

Ableism is the fact that on average, autistic people die 30 years younger than non-autistic people, with suicide as the second leading cause of death. As one friend put it, that’s an act of murder by society, because it is so bad that too many of us decide that it is no longer worth trying to live in a world literally designed to destroy us from the moment we are first born.

They hate us, and we already know it. They aim for us. They mean to kill. They mean to harm. They know what they are doing, and we know it too. There can be no innocence, not for us. Ableism is not some arbitrary list of “bad words,” as much as language is a tool of oppression. Ableism is violence, and it kills.

Source: Autistic Hoya — A blog by Lydia X. Z. Brown: Ableism is not “bad words.” It’s violence.

We believe that ableism is a “system of discrimination,” which means that it influences how people talk about and perceive autism whether or not they are aware of it, and regardless of whether or not they actually believe that autistic people are inferior to nonautistic people. We also believe that language choices are part of what perpetuates this system

Ableism is perpetuated by culturally shared norms and values, as well as ways of speaking and writing about disability and disabled people. These social processes culminate in, and originate from, societal expectations about the abilities required for granting individuals full social rights, agency, and even personhood. Ableism intersects with other systems of oppression, including racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. This means that ableism is compounded by experiences such as racism. In addition, disabled people of color are more likely to experience the effects of ableism than white disabled people.

Source: Avoiding Ableist Language: Suggestions for Autism Researchers | Autism in Adulthood

Defectiveness justifies cure and makes it essential. Across the centuries, how many communities have been declared inherently defective by white people, rich people, nondisabled people, men backed by medical, scientific, academic, and state authority?

Defectiveness wields incredible power because ableism builds and maintains the notion that defective body-minds are undesirable, worthless, disposable, or in need of cure. In a world without ableism, defective, meaning the “imperfection of a bodily system,” would probably not even exist. But if it did, it would only be a neutral descriptor. However, in today’s world where ableism fundamentally shapes white Western cultural definitions of normal and abnormal, worthy and unworthy, whole and broken body-minds, any person or community named defective can be targeted without question or hesitation for eradication, imprisonment, institutionalization. The ableist invention of defectiveness functions as an indisputable justification not only for cure but also for many systems of oppression.

Cartwright and the rest use the ableist invention of defectiveness in order to explain and justify the practices of enslavement, imprisonment, institutionalization, and state violence. In essence, they fortify white supremacy by leveraging ableism.

Entire body-minds, communities, cultures are squeezed into defective. And then that single blunt concept turns, becoming defect. Bullies hurl it as an insult. Strangers ask it out of curiosity. Doctors note it in medical files. Judges and juries hear it in testimony. Scientists study it as truth. Politicians write it into policy. Defect and defective explode with hate, power, and control.

The list of body-mind differences, illnesses, and so-called defects that the medical-industrial complex wants to eradicate goes on and on. This kind of elimination benefits some of us in significant ways-saving our lives or increasing our comfort. At the same time, it also commits damage, routinely turning body-minds into medical objects and creating lies about normal and natural.

…as a widespread ideology centered on eradication, cure always operates in relationship to violence.

As an ideology seeped into every corner of white Western thought and culture, cure rides on the back of normal and natural.

Source: » Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure | Eli Clare

Forced intimacy is a cornerstone of how ableism functions in an able bodied supremacist world. Disabled people are expected to “strip down” and “show all our cards” metaphorically in order to get the basic access we need in order to survive. We are the ones who must be vulnerable-whether we want to or not-about ourselves, our bodyminds and our abilities. Forced intimacy was one of the many ways I learned that consent does not exist for my disabled asian girl bodymind. People are allowed to ask me intrusive questions about my body, make me “prove” my disability or expect me to share with them every aspect of my accessibility needs. I learned how to simultaneously shrink myself and nonconsensually open myself up as a disabled girl of color every damn day.

Forced intimacy is the opposite of access intimacy. It feels exploitative, exhausting and at times violating. Because I am physically disabled and use a manual wheelchair, I often experience forced intimacy when able bodied people push my wheelchair without my consent or when I am in situations where I have to be pushed by people I do not feel safe with, know or who are actively harassing me while pushing me. This often happens when I am traveling and have to rely on strangers for my access needs. I cannot count the number of times a strange man has pushed my wheelchair in the airport, while saying offensive and gross comments to me. These are the moments where disability, race, gender, immigration, class, age and sexuality collide together at once, indistinguishable from one another.

Source: Forced Intimacy: An Ableist Norm | Leaving Evidence

The notion that some people produce more (or less) for the economy and are, therefore, more (or less) valuable -is ableism.

Unsurprisingly, undergirding many US immigration laws, for instance, are theories of “scientific” racism and eugenics – namely, on ideas of racial superiority/inferiority, gendered, sexual and psychopathic deviancy, and prevailing notions of “common sense” racism. Such arguments construct a knowledge system that ties the worth of people to their productivity and proximity to normative constructions of whiteness.

To be sure, then, ableism is part and parcel of white supremacy. According to critical race theorist Frances Lee Ansley, white supremacy is “a political, economic and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources.” Furthermore, according to Robin DiAngelo, a scholar of Whiteness Studies, white supremacy defines white people “as the norm or standard for human, and people of colour as an inherent deviation from that norm.”

Source: A US immigration history of white supremacy and ableism | Human Rights | Al Jazeera

So intertwined are these oppressions that any attempt to rid the nation of racism without doing away with ableism yields practically nothing. The same is true in reverse. Disabled communities attempting to rid the nation of ableism find themselves having made very little headway because they are still practicing racism.

Source: Emmett Till & the Pervasive Erasure of Disability In Conversations about White Supremacy & Police Violence – TALILA A. LEWIS

Yet the cultural impulse to assume that people with genetic variations are in a constant state of suffering, and that it blights our lives, is so pervasive that it is even internalized by some with genetic conditions themselves.

Such genetic determinism is a new form of eugenic thinking grounded in what the communications studies scholar James L. Cherney calls “common sense” ableism, a belief system that allows people to simultaneously deny any commitment to distasteful eugenic principles while also holding them up. Common sense ableism permits, even encourages, such injurious attitudes.

Utilizing genome manipulation tools and performing genetic selection is tantamount to engaging in what Rosemarie calls “velvet eugenics.” Enforced by laissez-faire commercialism, rather than by the state, velvet eugenics seems like common sense, yet it hides its violence and inequality behind claims of patient autonomy and under a veil of voluntary consent. Ultimately, market-driven velvet eugenics embodies a similar goal of purging unacceptable human variations that campaigns to eliminate the supposedly unfit and inferior have held in the past. Both enact a mandate to exclude people with disabilities from coming into the world.

Source: The Dark Side of CRISPR – Scientific American

[A]bleism is that most insidious form of rhetoric that has become reified and so widely accepted as common sense that it denies its own rhetoricity—it “goes without saying.” To fully address it we must name its presence, for cultural assumptions accepted uncritically adopt the mantle of “simple truth” and become extremely difficult to rebut. As the neologism “ableism” itself testifies, we need new words to reveal the places it resides and new language to describe how it feeds. Without doing so, ableist ways of thinking and interpreting will operate as the context for making sense of any acts challenging discrimination, which undermines their impact, reduces their symbolic potential, and can even transform them into superficial measures that give the appearance of change yet elide a recalcitrant ableist system.

Ableism dominates the thinking of our society as a whole and it clearly operates as a discourse of power and domination.

Recognizing ableism requires a shift in orientation, a perceptual gestalt framed by the filter of the term “ableism” itself. The same texts that broadcast “Ableism!” to those oriented to perceive it are usually read innocently even when viewed from a liberal, humanitarian, or progressive perspective. Ableism is so pervasive that it is difficult to identify until one begins to interrogate the governing assumptions of well-intentioned society. Within the space allowed by these rhetorical premises, ableism appears natural, necessary, and ultimately moral discrimination required for the normal functioning of civilization. Consider a set of stairs. An ableist culture thinks little of stairs, or even sees them as elegant architectural devices—especially those grand marble masterpieces that elevate buildings of state. But disability rights activists see stairs as a discriminatory apparatus—a “no crips allowed” sign that only those aware of ableism can read—that makes their inevitable presence around government buildings a not-so-subtle statement about who belongs in our most important public spaces. But the device has become so accepted in our culture that the idea of stairs as oppressive technology will strike many as ludicrous. Several years ago when I began to study ableism, a professor—unconvinced of the value of the project—questioned my developing arguments by pointing to a set of steps and exclaiming, “Next you’ll be telling me that those stairs discriminate!” He was right.

The professor’s surprise suggests that commonplace cultural assumptions support themselves because the very arguments available against them seem unwarranted and invalid. Interrogating stairs was such an outrageous idea that a simple reductio ad absurdum argument depicted the critique of ableism as a fallacy. As an ingrained part of the interpretive frameworks sanctioned by culture, ableism gets reinforced by the everyday practice of interpreting and making sense of the world.

The problem is not that deviance is bad, it is that ableism teaches seeing it that way. The problem is not that being abnormal is unnatural, it is that ableism teaches valuing normalcy that way. The problem is not that ability resides in the body, and that a body with different skills is inherently unable to function in society, it is that ableism teaches knowing ability that way. Confronting ableism as visual, ideological, and epistemic problems does not require us to set aside efforts to change the material order of society—such as working to provide access to public spaces—but it does empower disability literature, art, slogans, and protests as crucial to the effort to change what disability means.

If we locate the problem in disability, then the ableist absolves his or her responsibility for discrimination and may not even recognize its presence. If we locate the problem in ableism, then the ableist must question her or his orientation. The critic’s task is to make ableism so apparent and irredeemable that one cannot practice it without incurring social castigation. This requires substantial vigilance, for ableist thinking pervades the culture. For example, as I write this, I am tempted to use medical metaphors to explain the task and script something like “we cannot simply excise the tumor of ableism and heal the culture, for it has metastasized and infiltrated every organ of society.” Yet this metaphor relies on an ableist perspective that motivates with the fear of death and turns to medical solutions to repair a body in decay. Using it, I would endorse and perpetuate ableist rhetoric, just as I would by using deafness as a metaphor for obstinacy (“Marie was deaf to their pleas for bread”) or blindness to convey ignorance (“George turned a blind eye to global warming”). The pervasiveness of these and similar metaphors, like the cultural ubiquity of using images of disabled bodies to inspire pity, suggest the scale of the work ahead, and the ease with which one can resort to using them warns of the need for critical evaluation of one’s own rhetoric. Yet the task can be accomplished. Just as feminists have changed Western culture by naming and promoting recognition of sexism, the glass ceiling, and patriarchy—admittedly a work in progress, yet also one that can celebrate remarkable achievements—we can reform ableist culture by using rhetoric to craft awareness and political action.

Source: The Rhetoric of Ableism | Cherney | Disability Studies Quarterly

In ableist societies, disabled people are considered less valuable, or they are even seen as expendable.

Source: Ableism – Wikipedia

COVID has highlighted what disabled people knew decades ago: We are viewed as disposable.

Source: Ableism & Racism: Roots of The Same Tree – Pushkin

One of the cruelest tricks our culture plays on autistic people is that it makes us strangers to ourselves. We grow up knowing we’re different, but that difference is defined for us in terms of an absence of neurotypicality, not as the presence of another equally valid way of being. We wind up internalizing a lot of hateful, damaging, and inaccurate things about ourselves, and that makes it harder to know who we really are or what we really can and cannot do. If no one ever acknowledges that we have a voice, we can forget how to use it. We might even decide not to.

Source: Loud Hands: Autistic People, Speaking

Our movement, however, needs nothing of respectability politics. Accepting – conceding, surrendering, submitting to – that will only erode our movement until it crumbles entirely. Respectability politics is what’s gotten us into reliance on foundations and nonprofits, and elected officials and bureaucrats, and policies and programs that only benefit the most privileged and resourced members of our communities at the direct expense of the most marginalized. Radical, militant anger – and radical, militant hope, and radical, wild dreams, and radical, active love – that’s what’ll get us past the death machines of ableism and capitalism and white supremacy and laws and institutions working overtime to kill us.

Source: Autistic Hoya: The neurodiversity movements needs its shoes off, and fists up.

There is conscious and unconscious bias about people with a whole continuum of atypical brains and bodies. And when we judge someone’s intelligence based on their spelling and we rule out their capacities as a human being because of their bad handwriting…,we are participating in a subtle and yet very powerful form of institutionalized ableism.

Elevate ableism as one of the injustices of our world.

Source: Normal Sucks: Author Jonathan Mooney on How Schools Fail Kids with Learning Differences

The tenets of DisCrit, as seen in Table 1, guide our analysis of scientific research throughout history and how it has been used to “other” people by defining the norm based on a white supremacist, ableist perspective of the world. Whiteness and ability are property, and the way these power systems play out in the field of education creates our inequitable, oppressive system.

DisCrit is focused on ways that the forces of racism and ableism circulate interdependently, often in neutralized and invisible ways, to uphold notions of normalcy.

Because DisCrit emphasizes the “legal and historical aspects” of disability and race in the U.S. (Annamma, Connor, & Ferri, 2016, p. 19), we focus on the historical developments of dis/ability and race as co-constructed social identities, starting with the 19th century. Although the use of scientific research by white Americans to dehumanize people of color preceded the 19th century, this period in U.S. history provides the most compelling evidence of the co-construction of race and disability through science, medicine, and immigration policy (Dolmage, 2018). This historical context contributes to the foundation of a critical perspective of contemporary issues related to scientific research in education because, as DisCrit affirms, ableism and racism circulate interdependently and “have been used separately and together to deny the rights of some citizens” (p. 19).

In the work of eugenicists, we again observe ableism and white supremacy in the creation of a narrative about who deserves the right to be human and live a full life and the denial of full personhood to those deemed inferior due to language, ethnicity, and perceived ability. While we can study eugenics from a historical standpoint, the fact is that “these eugenic ideas about the value of certain bodies have never gone away” (Dolmage, 2018, p. 4).

Source: Disrupting Dis/abilization: A Critical Exploration of Research Methods to Combat White Supremacy and Ableism in Education

These ableist beliefs defy reality testing, but they persist. As we challenge white supremacy, settler colonialism, gender normativity and violence that targets trans people, we challenge able-bodied normativity. Through this clearing practice, we create Disability Justice.

The histories of white supremacy and ableism are inextricably entwined, created in the context of colonial conquest and capitalist domination. One cannot look at the history of US slavery, the stealing of Indigenous lands, and US imperialism without seeing the way that white supremacy uses ableism to create a lesser/“other” group of people that is deemed less worthy/abled/smart/capable. A single-issue civil rights framework is not enough to explain the full extent of ableism and how it operates in society. We can only truly understand ableism by tracing its connections to heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism, and capitalism. The same oppressive systems that inflicted violence upon Black and brown communities for 500+ years also inflicted 500+ years of violence on bodies and minds deemed outside the norm and therefore “dangerous.” Furthermore, racism, anti-Islamic beliefs, ableism and imperialism come together to feed us images of the “terrorist” as a dangerous Brown enemy, an “other” who is sexually and mentally “wrong.” All this is compounded by the ways ableism, along with queer-hatred and the violence of the gender binary, label our bodies and communities as “deviant,” “unproductive,” and “invalid.”

It doesn’t help anyone to pretend that we don’t have differing bodies, minds, and hearts, desires, needs, and limits — we most certainly (and fabulously) do. A disability justice orientation names ableism as a constructed, violent ordering of bodily difference that our movement works to unmask and undo, but it also recognizes that we currently exist in the world as it has been structured by ableism. Therefore, mixed ability organizing means engaging the tensions between living in this system (which categorizes us, limits us, disables us, and pits us against each other), while also resisting it. The tension between these two facts will be an enduring feature of the struggle for disability justice.

Disability justice encompasses and embraces all bodies, minds, hearts, and forms of embodiment. This emergent movement is unquestionably of, by, and for disabled people of color and queer, trans, and gender- nonconforming people with disabilities, as we are subjected to the greatest violence of ableism, and therefore have the greatest stake in its abolition. Simultaneously, disability justice is ultimately about re-imagining and reinventing all of our relationships with one another, as well as with our own bodyminds. It is about transforming the very material and psychic frameworks that designate some bodies and minds as normative, valuable, and acceptable and others as deviant, worthless, or dangerous. We all have a stake, and role to play, in disability justice, in dismantling ableism and building toward a world where all bodies and minds are recognized and treated as valuable and beautiful. We still have a very long way to go, but we have each other to hold, and be held by, through the journey.

Our understanding of able-bodied supremacy has been formed in relation to intersecting systems of domination and exploitation. The histories of white supremacy and ableism are, after all, inextricably entwined, both forged in the crucible of colonial conquest and capitalist domination. We cannot comprehend ableism without grasping its interrelations with heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism, and capitalism, each system co-creating an ideal bodymind built upon the exclusion and elimination of a subjugated “other” from whom profits and status are extracted.

Ableism

The system of discriminatory practices and beliefs that maintain and perpetuate disability oppression.

Source: Skin, Tooth, and Bone: A Disability Justice Primer — Sins Invalid

ableism functions as a dehumanizing system that favors able-bodied people at the expense of people with disabilities, producing barriers from internalized ableism and shame, to interpersonal conflicts between non-disabled people and people with disabilities, lack of access to education, employment, and housing, social control imposed through the medical industrial complex and criminalization, and the severe isolation caused by institutionalization and incarceration.

Ableism tells us some bodies are valuable and some are disposable.

In the U.S. context, ableism has been forged with and through white supremacy, colonial conquest, capitalist domination, and heteropatriarchy so that bodies are valued for their ability to produce profit or have it extracted from them, or are otherwise excluded or eliminated through isolation, institutionalization, incarceration, and/or death. Since the 1960s, the disability rights movement has made important strides to establish the civil rights of people with disabilities, increase access for people with mobility and communication impairments, and advance a philosophy of independent living for people with disabilities. However, the wisdom and experiences of people of color and poor people have often been marginalized in the disability rights struggle, and the solutions have often been too narrow to get to the root causes of ableism that keep people with disabilities targeted for criminalization, poverty and isolation.

Source: Ableism is the Bane of My Motherfuckin’ Existence | Barnard Center for Research on Women

“Any form of discrimination is abuse, ableism is discrimination against people with disabilities and internalized ableism is when you inflict that discrimination on to yourself because it’s what society has told you is true. Which yes, is all rooted in White supremacy. Ableism, sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia is all the same, just in different forms.”

Source: “Ism” is Code for Supremacy. Ableism and racism stem from the same… | by Eunice Brownlee | Medium

“To end white supremacy, we must dismantle the ableist notion of defectiveness.” He challenged my concepts of access and my understanding of the word defective while he linked the long history of that word with white supremacy. Eli discussed how “intersectional analysis allows us to see how all oppression grows from the same dominant power structure of cisgender — able bodied — white supremacist — capitalist — heteropatriarchy that bell hooks first articulated for us.”

Source: Dismantling the Box of Ableism | National SEED Project

Racism and ableism are often thought of as parallel systems of oppression that work separately to perpetuate social hierarchy. Not only does this way of looking at the world ignore the experiences of people of color with disabilities, but it also fails to examine how race is pathologized in order to create racism. Meaning that society treats people of color in specific ways to create barriers, and these poor conditions create disability. The concept of disability has been used to justify discrimination against other groups by attributing disability to them.

There are countless examples across history of black and brown bodies being pathologized in order to perpetuate white supremacy, and although there are examples of this across race, this piece will focus on the experiences of black people. An analysis of how black bodies have been pathologized in this country should begin with American slavery. The existence of the economic system of slavery relied on the social idea that African Americans lacked sufficient intelligence to participate or compete on an equal basis in society with white Americans. This idea was confirmed with the creation of several diseases specific to Black people. Drapetomania, for example, was a condition that caused slaves to run away “as much a disease of the mind as any other species of mental alienation.”1 Similarly, Dysaesthesia Aechiopis—a unique ailment differing “from every other species of mental disease, as it is accompanied with physical signs or lesions of the body”—resulted in a desire to avoid work and generally to cause mischief.2 These are only two examples of disability being created by people in power in order to preserve social order, and yet there are foundational.

To summarize, institutional racism has pathologized brown bodies in order to maintain the status quo while simultaneously failing to acknowledge that the state is responsible for creating environments where disability is inevitable. As a result, ableism will always exist if racism exists because it is a tool of racism, creating societal barriers for people of color creates disability. The social model of disability that the disability community is embracing by definition includes people of color, and yet the disability community is not inclusive of the struggles of people of color. Understanding the connection between these two systems of oppression should unite the disability and people of color communities, and yet little is known about this history. This does negate the experiences of people of color with disabilities, as there are many (myself included) who identify as both a person of color and as a person with a disability. It is true, however, that both these communities’ movements for civil rights have existed in primarily separate spheres. Understanding the historical connection between racism and ableism should lead to a connected effort to disable these systems of oppression. The ultimate goal of meaningful inclusion for the disability community will never be fully realized until black and brown people are also free.

Source: Racism and Ableism – AAPD

Contemporary Progressive Education with the Human Restoration Project

Students and teachers are human beings. Schools must bring this to light.

The HUMAN RESTORATION PROJECT supports progressive educators in building systematic change within schools. By providing free resources, professional development, and materials, we can form a coalition of like-minded educators who can revolutionize the education system from the ground up.

This work doesn’t provide firm answers or simple solutions. These do not exist in solving the complex, nuanced issues of the education system which is rooted in inequity, lack of proper funding, and systemic racism, sexism, and greed. This primer outlines the philosophy of progressive education, which is the antithesis of the growing movement to test, retest, and dehumanize the education process.

It may challenge or conflict with one’s ideas – which is why this style of education is needed. Unless educators seek to deconstruct and rebuild the underlying systems of the system, little to no change will occur. Instead, we’ll see more and more educators become burnt out and demoralized as they continually try to make the broken systems work as promised.

A human-centered classroom is needed now more than ever. In a time of growing uncertainty, global challenges, and increased threats to democracy, children need space to question, reflect, and actualize a meaning to their lives. These young people, along with their educators, will build a new future of love, care, and respect for all.

Source: Primer: A Guide to Human Centric Education

The Human Restoration Project’s primer on human centric education outlines equity literate contemporary progressive education compatible with neurodiversity and the social model of disability.

A fantasy of ours at Stimpunks is to start a school for local neurodivergent and disabled people who are not served by public or private schools. “A human-centered classroom is needed now more than ever,” especially for those left out of “all means all”.

If there is ever a Stimpunks school, HRP’s Primer and Handbooks and the book “Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools” would be foundational. They recognize that “creating paths to equity and access for all children remains the grand challenge of public education…”

Creating paths to equity and access for all children remains the grand challenge of public education in America.

Equity provides resources so that educators can see all our children’s strengths. Access provides our children with the chance to show us who they are and what they can do. Empathy allows us to see children as children, even teens who may face all the challenges that poverty and other risk factors create. Inclusivity creates a welcoming culture of care so that no one feels outside the community.

Source: Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools (Kindle Locations 840-841, 878-881). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Human centric education is inclusive instead of eugenic.

Sadly though, the social, political, and economic narrative of schooling in the past has been grounded in a “soft eugenics” belief that while some children have the capacity to become whatever they choose to be in life, others do not. This plays out in the decisions that educators make, often based on decontextualized data and confirmation biases that stem from immersion in traditions of education that did the same to us. Even if lip service is given to words such as equity, accessibility, inclusivity, empathy, cultural responsiveness, and connected relationships, schooling today is still far more likely to support practices from the past that have created school cultures in which none ​of those words define who educators really are, no matter what they aspire to be.

Consider how the “habitable world” concept developed by Rosemarie Garland‐Thomson, Emory University researcher and professor, sits at the core of the philosophy of educators who developed and now sustain the structures and processes of schooling that impact young people such as Kolion (Garland‐Thomson 2017b). Garland‐Thomson views public, political, and organizational philosophy as representative of one of “two forms of world‐building, inclusive and eugenic” (Garland‐Thomson 2017a). Unfortunately, often it’s the soft educational eugenics philosophy that is most often expressed in practice, if not in words, across the nation’s schools rather than the creation of habitable worlds that are inclusive of all learners.

If we want our schools to be learning ​spaces that reveal the strengths of children to us, we have to create a bandwidth of opportunities that do so. That means making decisions differently, decisions driven from values that support equity, accessibility, inclusivity, empathy, cultural responsiveness, and connected relationships inside the ecosystem. Those are the words representative of habitable worlds, not words such as sort, select, remediate, suspend, or fail.

Source: Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools (Kindle Locations 908-920, 929-938). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

How do we get from eugenic to inclusive world building in our schools? HRP has a recipe that very much aligns with Stimpunks philosophy and experience.

HRP has identified twenty systems, summarized within 4 values statements, that must be changed for a human-centric, equitable system that creates a better future for all.

Learning is rooted in purpose finding and community relevance.

  1. Map a Path to Purpose
  2. Learn Experientially
  3. Connect to the Community
  4. Promote Literacy
  5. Create Cross-Disciplinary Classrooms

Social justice is the cornerstone to educational success.

  1. Support a Reflective Space
  2. Demand Inclusive Spaces
  3. Authenticate Student Voice
  4. Adopt Critical Pedagogy
  5. Utilize Restorative Justice

Dehumanizing practices do not belong in schools.

  1. Radically Reduce Homework
  2. Build Strong Relationships
  3. Eliminate Grading
  4. Redefine Assessment and End Testing
  5. Reform Food Systems

Learners are respectful toward each other’s innate human worth.

  1. Self-Direct Learning
  2. Support and Elevate Teachers
  3. Stay Buzzword Free
  4. Cooperate, Don’t Force Competition
  5. Support Multi-Age Classrooms

Source: The Need

A school run on such a philosophy would include us Stimpunks like no school has yet.

Stimpunks shouldn’t have to start our own school to access the inclusive world building of human centric, contemporary, progressive education. For the “all means all” promise of public education to include us, we need allies working “against rules and excuses – to convert an institution to a progressive model of education”.

We’re working – against rules and excuses – to convert an institution to a progressive model of education grounded in an “all means all” philosophy when it comes to every child participating in rich, experiential learning.

Source: Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools (Kindle Locations 1036-1052). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Stimpunks is happy to support the Human Restoration Project and its vision of contemporary progressive education.

Disability Dongles: Designing for the Individual, Not the Collective

“I feel like solutions to inaccessibility are often rooted in whiteness, because anyone who doesn’t think about it would think it’s cool but the reality is that they’ve created accessibility for the individual, not the collective and reinforces the class hierarchy because the wealthy would be the only ones with complete accessibility.”

Source: Imani Barbarin on Twitter

This feels like an important aspect of what Liz Jackson calls a “Disability Dongle”. Disability dongles are addressed to the individual, not the collective.

Disability Dongles

A well intended and elegant, yet useless solution to a problem we never knew we had. Disability Dongles are most frequently conceived of and created in design schools and at IDEO.

Source: Liz Jackson | Honoring the Friction of Disability – YouTube

Disability studies, particularly as offered by disabled Black women like Imani Barbarin, re-roots us out exclusive accessibility for the most privileged and into pluralistic accessibility for all. “Disability studies prevents disability dongles.”

This is why it’s absolutely essential to insert disability studies curriculum into design school.

Accessibility is only one part of disability. It’s the how.

Disability studies is the who. It’s the what. It’s the when, the where, and the why.

To be short, disability studies prevents disability dongles.

Source: Liz Jackson | Honoring the Friction of Disability – YouTube

Previously,

Emotion Matters in Alt Text: Text Descriptions and Emotion Rich Images

The relevant parts of an image aren’t limited to the cold hard facts. Images can make you feel a particular way, and that’s something that should be made available to a screen reader user.

“Emotion matters” really changed how I think about writing alt text. Léonie wrote a longer article on the idea, which I recommend reading.

Source: Writing great alt text: Emotion matters – JakeArchibald.com

So just what is a decorative image? It seems to me that one person’s eye candy is another person’s emotional link to a website.

A good alt text can conjure up wonderfully stimulating mental images. A friendly smile is the same in print, photo or wax crayon. Whether you listen to an image or see it, the emotional response is the key factor, so why should we recommend that these emotion rich images should be given a null alt text and hidden from screen reader users?

Perhaps it’s time we introduced another group of images: Emotion rich images and encouraged the practice of providing descriptive alt texts for them. If people don’t want to listen to the alt text, they won’t. If people don’t want to pause and look at the image, they won’t. In either case, it’s good to have the choice.

Source: Text descriptions and emotion rich images – Tink – Léonie Watson

So much emotion is lost with conventional alt text wisdom.

  • “One person’s eye candy is another person’s emotional link.“
  • “It’s time we introduced another group of images: Emotion rich images and encouraged the practice of providing descriptive alt texts for them.”

That’s a welcome reframing of decorative images that I’ll apply going forward.

Via: A Case for Accessibility Statements in App Stores | Accessibiity Weekly

Inclusion Through Options: There is no one size fits all when it comes to accessibility.

While you can read an in-detail breakdown of all accessibility settings in the game, what The Last of Us 2 creators did extremely well was not succumbing to the idea of ‘accessibility modes’.

“‘We want to be able to dig into the menus, fine-tune things, adjust things, really get into the nitty-gritty of what these options mean.'”

Making all of the accessibility settings fully customizable and open to fine-tuning by the player allowed everyone to find the perfect combination of options for their individual access needs. It removed barriers for many who wouldn’t be able to experience the game at all otherwise, but also allowed others to just make their gameplay experience more comfortable.

If Naughty Dog made the game high contrast for all the players and called it a day, it would probably not be dubbed ‘the most accessible game ever.’

There is no one size fits all when it comes to accessibility. Instead of choosing who to prioritize and counting tradeoffs for certain choices like universal high contrast mode, the obvious solution would be to let the user choose.

Similar approach can be taken with any accessibility work at a large scale. There is no blanket ‘accessibility mode’ or ‘accessibility setting’ (save for basic compliance) that will fit everyone’s needs. Giving the user full control to set up what works best for them is always the better choice.

Source: Twitter’s new font and Last of Us 2: an accessibility lesson to be learned | by Anna 4erepawko Mészáros | Aug, 2021 | UX Collective

During my stint as WordPress lead developer, I was in the “Decisions, Not Options” camp . There are merits to the philosophy, but it can be taken to inaccessible ends.

There will always be conflicting accommodations. Customization is key, especially at scale.

Previously,

Intersectionality and Professionalism

The Center for Intersectional Justice explains that one key aspect of recognizing intersectionality is “fighting discrimination within discrimination, tackling inequalities within inequalities, and protecting minorities within minorities.” If conversations about equity are not considering the intersecting identities of those involved in the planning and decision making individually and as a collective, then the question comes into play of whether equity can exist. The same holds true for conversations about accessibility and inclusion.

I envision a world that considers each part within the wholeness of an individual at all points of the lifespan. A world in which anti-racism and anti-ableism are a natural part of training, education, professionalism, and everyday interactions.

Source: Reflecting on ADA 30 While Reckoning with COVID-19 and Racism – Rooted in Rights

We too envision that world. Intersectionality and equity literacy are necessary professional development.

Previously,

Back to Normal, Back to Inaccessible

Over on my personal blog, I wrote about the post-lockdown return to inaccessibility.

Autistic people have significant barriers to accessing safety.” Likewise physically disabled people. Lockdown bettered accessibility and neurological pluralism, and thus safety, in myriad ways that are now disappearing.

Source: Back to Normal, Back to Inaccessible – Ryan Boren

Politically and Culturally-engaged Collaborators, Not Just Users and Testers

Clinical, charitable, and institutional channels serve to weed out isolated, multiply marginalized, independent activists, scholars, and artists—those who may be suspicious of large-scale, centralized approaches to advocacy and the ways they tend to concentrate power. By relying primarily on charities as recruitment channels, Unilever effectively ensured that politically and culturally engaged disabled people were excluded from its research population.

Although Degree Inclusive’s tagline claims it was “built with a diverse disability community,” Unilever did not partner with disabled folks. They partnered with disability charities. It wasn’t until they arrived at a prototype that they invited disabled consumers to test it. The recruitment of disabled “users and testers” is routinely framed as meaningful inclusion, when in fact it is just another way that corporations extract, commodify, and marginalize lived experience while positioning themselves as “doing good” and “leading the way.”

These problems are not unique to Degree Inclusive. In fact, we encounter them routinely within design and branding “for” disability. When companies decide to make something about disability, they typically reach out to whichever organizations have the largest public profile. These organizations are typically charities, rarely disabled-led, and never engaged in disability through a politically and culturally-informed lens. The corporations pursue representational politics and think they are doing identity politics. They are then shocked and dismayed to hear that they’re still doing disability wrong. Then they absolve themselves by saying, “We consulted with people with disabilities, so clearly there’s never any one right way to do things.”

Source: World’s First Adaptive Deodorant | #CriticalAxis: a community driven project from The Disabled List

Before I entered the disability and neurodiversity communities, I was a software developer with a “users and testers” notion of accessibility and inclusion. Community was an awakening. We must engage with politically and culturally-engaged collaborators from the communities we serve and hope to serve, not just users, testers, and spokespeople.

If companies seek to “inspire bold action across the industry,” as Unilever claims, they must begin with taking bold action themselves. That starts with two things: expanding the roles they envision for marginalized people beyond those of spokesperson and user-tester; and interrogating the recruitment channels through which they attempt to reach marginalized creators, collaborators, and communities, asking who exists beyond the reach of those channels and why.

Source: World’s First Adaptive Deodorant | #CriticalAxis: a community driven project from The Disabled List