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Final Reflection

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CDS Portfolio:  Final Reflection

Fiona Smith

            Looking back at my understanding of disability theory and applications at the beginning of the semester, I clearly held limited and flawed views of the field as a whole.  This class has made me ask questions of myself, of my surroundings, and even of my other coursework and major that I had never before considered.

            Most formative for my learning this semester were two key topics:  disability history, and access.  Before this course, I did have a basic knowledge of disability and disability justice in American history, mostly where institutionalization, ‘insanity’, and d/Deafness were concerned.  But these were all separate pieces of a larger puzzle I wasn’t putting together in my mind.  Thankfully, this class completely opened my eyes to new pieces and new patterns, and most importantly, how to put them together to form a coherent intersectional understanding.  It was Eli Clare’s multimodal writing on the subjects of freak shows, neurodiversity, the queer/crip experience, environmental justice, intersections of racial identities, and more, which first introduced me to the spectrum of disability identity and experience.  Understanding disabled people’s complicated historical relationship with institutionalization, art, media, healthcare, language, and stigma, through the readings of Harriet McBryde Johnson, Melanie Yergeau, Rosemarie Garland Thomson, and Eli Clare helped me understand the smaller histories bound up within broader narratives. 

            I also felt inspired by the complexity and the nuance of access and universal design.  For example, the units covering access in Art and Higher Education were applications I had barely thought about before, despite my personal ‘disability experience’ in both!  I was particularly struck by Jay Dolmage’s position on the subject of Universal Design as a process, not merely arbitrary academic guidelines: 

"...UD should be registered as action — a patterning of engagement and effort…. The emphasis on 'design' allows us to recognize that we are all involved in the continued production of space (and that students should be agents in this negotiation). (Dolmage, Universal Design: Places to Start [2015])"

That students can and should be empowered to implement UDL in their everyday lives and spaces was profound for me.  I began to approach academia in new ways:  the language I used, the beliefs I held, the expectations for myself and others, my perception of physical and figurative spaces, all these I was scrutinizing.  Furthermore, enacting inclusion in academic spaces helped frame my understanding of our CCW visits (entering a metaphorical space which mostly privileges disabled bodies and minds) and informed my work for and appreciation of our CCW art exhibition in VCAM.

            Creating two projects about Autistic young people – “Autistic at College” and “Reframing Art” – forced me to dig deeper into the complexity of ASD and discussions surrounding medicalization, stigma, neurodiversity, autonomy, advocacy, and more.  I enjoyed applying my artistic skills to these projects, making them accessible but also enjoyable to read and easy to understand (particularly my midterm comic).  However, nothing can compare to the literature and artworks of people with ASD, which I studied in preparation for both projects, and showed me just how important it is to elevate their voices.  I hope that others in the class, and possibly the wider world online, can appreciate this importance even a little through my creations – but more so, that they will be inspired to seek out the authentic self-expression and self-advocacy of people with Autism of all ages.



Dolmage, Jay. “Universal Design: Places to Start.” Disability Studies Quarterly, vol. 35, no. 2, 2015, doi:10.18061/dsq.v35i2.463.