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2/25: language, accessibility, and ideology

Leila's picture

I found the article about cognitive accessibility in academic spaces really interesting. And I think that the reminder that highly technical or unnecessarily complex language can be a barrier to the “nothing about us without us” goal of disability advocacy. But I also think that the idea of language as an access barrier is one that has been weaponized within academia and within popular culture as a reason to discount academic/other work that goes against the status quo.

 The article (and mostly the comments underneath it) reminded me of an introduction I read in class last semester to Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a book that for many years was not assigned at all in the Harvard Graduate School of Education because (according to several professors at the school) its language was “inaccessible” and “unclear”. At the same time, the author of the introduction writes, the book was being read clandestinely in apartheid South Africa. It later became a central part of Tucson High School’s ethnic studies curriculum and formed much of the justification by which funding was taken away from the program by the Arizona State Legislature. This is a unique example in many ways, but the fact that students and professors at the highest level of academia found a work inaccessible that was seen as essential to Black South Africans with varying degrees of educational attainment and predominantly Latinx high school students in an under-resourced high school suggests that what people call inaccessible often has less to do with language at all than it does with ideology — and often does not reflect a genuine interest in engaging with disabled people.