Academia and Disability, Redux, Redux…


Franz Kafka said: “By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.”


I’ve had this in mind for two days—two days of disability related disappointments. Both involve academia—a sad visit to Hobart and William Smith Colleges with my friend Bill Peace where, at a conference on bioethics and disability, we discovered inaccessible facilities and a concomitant lack of awareness about the issue, as evidenced by shrugs from the organizers. No, I’m not kidding.


Now my own university (Syracuse) has decided my request for a sighted guide to help me safely navigate in Istanbul while teaching abroad this summer is simply not in the budget. I made the request because I’d have to leave my guide dog home—Turkey is not a guide dog friendly place. Imagine making your way in a city without sidewalks and ferocious traffic and all without help. SU has a billion dollar endowment but can’t afford a plane ticket for an assistant.


I’m kind of relieved. Now that I know my disability status is a risible inconvenience both on the road and at home, I can unplug myself from academic culture. I should have unplugged a long time ago. I’ve never been welcome. And this is where Kafka is wrong: I did sufficiently desire an inclusive academy. But at 58, after thirty years of fighting, I see I’m not going to live to see it. 


Here’s Bill Peace’s assessment of our experience at Hobart and William Smith Colleges: