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What is Accessible?

What is Accessible?

Sunshine's picture

I have been very hesitant to post this, so I hope it goes well. 




Bryn Mawr can claim that the campus is accessible. And technically, most (but not all) buildings are. But we don’t want to accept that if you are in a wheelchair you have to go a completely roundabout way to get to the Pensby Center. Or you have to go through the back of the Campus Center. Or be unable to open the door to the only dorm with an elevator. That is not how we should define accessibility. And so we may say that technically anybody can say something in class, but what does that mean? Yes, technically I was able to speak since I was little. And I talked a lot. But that does not inherently mean I had the ability to speak in class. We speak so much about disability in our ICPR class, but we don’t speak much about non-visible disability. You can’t see how much I struggle with my social anxiety disorder, but it happens, every day. I felt so much anxiety in class today. It wasn’t the usual thrumming I get when I speak, but the kind that made me want to completely close up.  


One of the Plenary resolutions that we recently passed was about trigger warnings (or content warnings?) in class syllabi. A lot of people had a lot of feelings about that resolution. Some people thought that we shouldn’t pass it because there are no trigger warnings in “real life.” I (and a lot of other people), thought that there were a lot of problems with the resolution, but that was not one of them! 


All throughout my schooling I was told that I wouldn’t be able to have "accommodations" because it would’t be fair to the other students. I accepted that, because I thought it made sense. But now I don’t feel as comfortable with it. I want to be able to participate in class. I don’t need a red carpet leading to the podium from which I will speak (an exaggeration), but is it so bad to hope that my classmates will try to make it a bit easier for me? It may not happen in the real world, and I may not have co-workers who will try to make space for me, and my boss might not ask me for my ideas if I don’t come out with them right away, but that’s okay. If I wanted my education to be like the “real world” I would not be at Bryn Mawr. I would have gone to a co-ed college where people don’t care about dealing with issues of racism or homophobia or transphobia. 


When I said in class today that I was struggling with what was my own anxiety and what was the class dynamic, I was thinking about what were my own problems that I need to deal with versus what the other members could do to make the class accessible for those without anxiety. Because in my head that was all that was necessary. Make space for those without anxiety, and for people like me, with anxiety, it is all on me to create the rest of the space. But I am a member of the class, with anxiety. It is an intersectional identity, and I cannot remove myself from it. There is no way I can be a member of the class without anxiety, the same way I cannot be a member of the class who is not a cis woman or black. 


I don’t want to stifle the conversations we are having. I love them so much. I tell all my friends about them (I am not kidding. When I tell people about our 360 I rave about how passionate we all are). They make the classroom so much more enriching. But when I hear that I should just be expected to speak up if I want to say something, because doing something else could stifle a conversation, what I feel is that the conversations are perfect without my voice. Because that “stifling” act could potentially allow me to speak more often. I don’t think that you guys think that my voice is unnecessary ( I certainly don’t hope so), but that is how I feel. 


Maybe I am asking for too much (although I’m not really sure I am asking for anything.) Maybe I am stepping way out of line. But I hope that if you have anything to say you will respond to this post. I really do want to know what you are thinking, whether or not you agreed, disagreed, or thought this post was unnecessary. Also, please feel free to ask me questions. I thought about adding more backstory about my anxiety because I thought it might provide relevant context, but I wasn’t sure if it was necessary. So I’m totally open to answering questions about that as well. 

Identity Matters Tags




I too share a lot of these same feelings. I suffer from anxiety and I don't feel comfortable always saying that out loud. My anxiety has shaped me into someone who tends to be a listener within the classroom like Abby and a talkative person outside of the classroom. I really appreciated the conversation we had today and although I don't beleive we should have a fully structured course that includes hand raising or using cards, I still would appreciate more space to be who I am.


I'm really grateful to both Sunshine and ndifrank for naming the nonvisible disabilities present and active in all our classrooms.