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Finally Web Event: Accessibility without Disability?

Taylor11's picture


            Accessibility is defined as easily reached, easily understood, easily available, and approachable.  From this view accessibly is something that makes something else easier.  From my understanding accessibility, relating to the classroom, is the idea of making the classroom more open and more inclusive.  When thinking about the ways in which our class tried to make the classroom more accessible it came to my understanding that by making the classroom more accessible to some, was disabling to others.  Myself, personally found the structure of the classroom and the class overall more hindering.

            Firstly, I would like to talk about the physical structure of the classroom.  On the first day of class when we had to rearrange the desk into a circle, I was surprised.  I was so used to a classroom that was set up in lines and all facing the same direction.  However, I didn’t think too much about it until we started to discuss topics and opinions about books.  I began to notice that the structure of the classroom made me feel more vulnerable.  I felt more vulnerable because I could see everyone’s faces and everyone’s reactions to statements made by my fellow classmates.  As I spoke up in class I could see how people took what I was saying by how their faces change, this made me ever more cautions when choosing when to speak.  In the structure of the classroom in which I was use to, all you could see was the reaction of the professor and the back of everyone’s heads.  In this kind of structure you would only be aware if someone disagreed with what you said if they spoke up about it, that I was use to.  When the class is set up in a circle, allowing you to see everyone faces, someone can not agree with what your saying, make a face, and say nothing, leaving you wondering what you said wrong.  The purpose of making the structure of the classroom in a circle is to allow discussions and conversation more accessible.  This structure may have made the class more comfortable and easy to some but for me it made me even more nervous to speak up.  Along with the structure of the classroom being a circle we also did not have to raise our hand in order to signal that we want to speak, instead you just spoke.  This was supposed to allow for a better flow of the discussion and prevent people from having to wait to be called on in order to speak.  This might have been enabling for quick thinkers and quick speakers, but for me, who takes my time in order to form my opinion, this made the conversation go faster then I could formulate what I wanted to say.  When I did finally formulate what I wanted to say and made sure that what I said was valid and to the point, the conversation took s different turn and I was left trying to formulate the next thing I could say.  The classroom structure was supposed to make discussion more accessible but instead for me it made it more difficult for me to speak.

            In thinking about this it caused me to start thinking if there was a way to make a classroom more accessible without disabling.  When Clare Mullaney and Kevin Gotkin came to class and attempted to make the class more accessible by introducing different ways to teach and discuss, it came to my attention that this was a difficult task.  After participating and listening to their discussion it made me more aware of the fact that in order to make a classroom more accessible it might make things less accessible to others.  Making any classroom more accessible for everyone is a great idea and amazing step in order to make college more accessible to others, but is it possible to make things more accessible without disabling?  Is our culture in itself disabling?  Can there be a culture (or a classroom) that does not disable/disadvantage anyone in it?

            The last question that I wrote was asked by Paul Grobstein (a professor at Bryn Mawr) in response to a paper written by Ray McDermott and Hervé Varenne titled “Culture as Disability”.   This paper explored how culture creates the disabled, that they abled don’t exist unless there is the disabled.  In the paper they explore cultures in which being deaf was not seen as a disability but was instead unnoticed.  This culture instead had everyone learn and use sign language.  It wasn’t until people came into this culture and deemed that being deaf was in fact disabling that people began to treat the deaf differently and created a separation.  The paper brought to light that culture creates disabilities and therefore culture as disability makes sense.  “Consideration of how such small matters can be turned into a source of social isolation and exclusion is a good way to ask about the nature of culture as disability”.   The paper allows for the understanding that we might be our own enemy in our inability to create a world in which no one is disabled or disadvantage, that we create that separation.  They end the paper with this words:


“For their resistance to what they cannot ignore also reveals the hegemony of all the institutions that originally constructed their problems. In the ethnographic study of disability, the subject shifts from THEM to US, from what is wrong with them to what is wrong with the culture that history has made for all of us, from what is wrong with them to what is wrong with the history that has made a THEM separate from an US, from what is wrong with them to what is right with them that they can tell us so well about the world we have all inherited.” (Ray McDermott & Hervé Varenne)

The ending of the paper really struck me because it made it seem that this culture has been around for ages and this culture will always be around and if this culture was to remain that we will remain disabled.  After reading the paper and seeing how they made it seem that culture will always be disabling allows for the understanding of why Paul Grobstein asked the question, “Can there be a culture that does not disable/disadvantage anyone in it?”  Hervé Varenne does answer his question:

“No, there cannot be any culture that does not disable at least some. All cultures place extra burdens on humanity that will slow all of us in one way or another.” He elaborates on his answer in his paper titled “Extra Burdens in the Search for New Openings: on the Inevitability of Cultural Disabilities”.    In this articles he does not refer to disabilities instead he makes references to the burdens that as a culture we put on others and ourselves.  Humans can’t fly and that burdened us because it forced us to remain on the ground.  Then the flying machine was invented but it was only limited to a few individuals who flew around the world ever once in a while.  But soon these few people lost control of aviation and aviation became “part of complex sets of interlocking institutions”, that made flying limited to the few and burdening others.  This is idea is making reference to “cultural facts organizing new policy”, meaning that as humans that we will develop new ways to make life more accessible but we will then take those new ideas and make policies that makes it only accessible to some in the end.  It is in our culture to add burdens to our lives rather then relieve them.  By the end of the paper you are left with the feeling of how can this be?  People are searching for a way in which to make a classroom more accessible but there will never be a way in which there is no one that does not have burdens within the system.

            So maybe it is not the classroom structure that disabled me but rather the culture in which I have grown up in that made it disabling?  This idea allowed me to considered other ways in which Bryn Mawr College can be seen as creating burdens.  I began to think of the overall athletic community at Bryn Mawr, focusing in on soccer and how it has change since I have been here the past three years and how these changes have put burdens on the community as a whole.  Bryn Mawr soccer has become increasingly more competitive and more selective since I came here in 2011.  When I tried out for the team, there really wasn’t a tryout, it was you showed up to preseason and you were on the team, inviting all players at different levels.  This has change; fast-forward to 2013 and Bryn Mawr held tryouts and not everyone made the team.  Bryn Mawr soccer has become more selective causing people who may love the game but are not at the right level to have a place on the team to not be able to play soccer.  This puts burdens on people who want to play soccer but are unable to because of the policies and standards put into place.  As a community Bryn Mawr athletics should become more inclusive rather then less.  Maybe there should be a club team in which if you want to play soccer you can.  Also by creating a club team it will allow people who did not make the team at first to work on their skills and practice so they might be able make the team next year.  The increase desire to be the best and create a competitive culture Bryn Mawr has become more selective causing burdens to be put on the people who may want to play soccer while at Bryn Mawr. Showing how as a culture we create our on burdens.

            If culture is disabling, then how will we ever be able to create a place that does not burden?  Is the idea of creating a classroom that is accessible to all impossible?  If we stop recognizing disabilities and start teaching everyone the same thing, for example everyone learn sign language, or to read brawl, will that eliminate physical disabilities as a category?  These are some of the questions that I still have about disability, accessibility, and culture.  I may now recognize ways in which our own culture burdens us but now I am interested in figuring out ways in which this can be fixed and help create a culture that will no longer be disabling.