I have decided today that I’m done with inaccessible events—conferences, academic symposia, public lectures, poetry festivals, arts jamborees—you name it—I’ve been to hundreds of gatherings that really don’t care if people with disabilities are at the table.
The latest is “Split This Rock” a Washington poetry festival that’s designed to oppose our nation’s militarism, and our egregious and widely articulated assaults on human rights. Today I found that their conference materials are inaccessible for screen reading software.
I wrote to someone well placed at STR who appropriately vows to fix the matter. But what bothers me isn’t the architecture of the problem—its the problem itself. No one asked. No one said: “Are we ADA compliant with our web site?”
The conference, like so many I’ve been to, celebrates diversity. But its idea of diversity only extends to disability insofar as no one says: “don’t bother showing up.” Look at the website. There’s no information on disability or accessibility anywhere.
I mean it. I’m done. I’m sick of tricked out diversity gurus talking about single issue politics and leaving out women with disabilities, children with disabilities, veterans with disabilities, the elderly with disabilities, and the poor with disabilities.
We’re not sexy enough for diversity hipsters. Can you tell I’m angry? I’m really angry. And a passel of poets I know and like will go to Split This Rock and read their heartfelt anti-war, anti-racism, anti-misogyny poems and shrug about the cripples.
How is this shrugging possible?
The engineering of normalcy is (was) (remains) real. From Frances Galton to Antonin Scalia the reflexive and reactionary assignment of physical and social value per bodies is the Lingua Franca of deterministic economies. No one has written more persuasively about that history than Lennard J. Davis. The economic construction of normalcy is indisputable. Once upon a time I took a group of disability studies students to London–not to look at the queen, but to see Charles Babbage’s model of “the difference engine” (has anything before or since been so perfectly named?) and then we toured the vestiges of Victorian asylums. Normalcy, the proper ‘mean’ was an economic necessity of industrial empire by 1830. The work of constructing it was astonishingly quick. The plasticity of social acquiescence was also quick: there are social lies and statistics and people will accept both once they’ve given themselves over to industrial economies.
“We will never find the sense of something (of a human, a biological or even a physical phenomenon) if we do not know the force which appropriates the thing, which exploits it, which takes possession of it or is expressed in it.” (Deleuze, Gilles. Nietzsche et la philosophie. Presses universitaires de France Vendôme. 1962. Paperback, 233 pages, Language French, ASIN: B0014XAK6Q. Deleuze, Gilles and Hugh Tomlinson (Translator) and Michael Hardt (Forward). Nietzsche and Philosophy. Columbia University Press. June 1, 2006. Paperback, 256 pages, Language English, ISBN: 0231138776.)