“Its Against the Rules, Disabled Person…”

planet of the blind

If you’ve a disability you’re used to hearing: “its against the rules” in hundreds of settings. “Its against the rules for you to stand near that painting”; “against the rules to sit in a wheelchair in this section”; “have extra time on a test”; “wear those headphones in class”; “take three incompletes in a semester”; on and on. “Against the rules for a guide dog to ride this bus”; “against…blah blah blah….”

A major facet of ableism rests with the rhetoric of rules and rule bound thinking. A friend of mine a blind attorney who graduated from Harvard Law once said in a job interview something like, “dude, my whole life is outside the box.”

Bureaucrats, administrators, college faculty, politicians, etc. like to say they want to “think outside the box” but their boxes are never open where disability is concerned.

Rules are good. Don’t walk on the grass. Don’t shout fire in a theater. But rules preventing the disabled from participating in mainstream activities are always ableist and ugly.

I was told as a child I wasn’t allowed to play games with other kids. Told I didn’t belong in almost any room where I found myself.

All disabled people know that story.

It especially kills me when administrators at colleges and universities can’t find it within themselves to solve an accessibility problem because the problem defies the ordinary.

My friend Scott Lissner the ADA Coordinator at The Ohio State University once found a way to get a wheelchair using student aboard a tractor.

Accommodations require imagination and a can do spirit.

When you’re tempted to say “against the rules” where disability access is concerned its time to scratch you head and say, “what if we….?”

Disability accommodations represent old fashioned American know how.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Barnes and Noble

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

One thought on ““Its Against the Rules, Disabled Person…””

  1. Steve, this is so true. I was a college faculty member until recently. The hypocrisy in the world of education is stomach-turning.

    I had a medical disability that the administration was quite aware of–in fact, my division dean mentioned it in an e-mail with an inferred threat to demote me due to my limitations. There was an easy reasonable accommodation that I had been using well before my disability presented: teaching online from home. The district did all it could to prevent me from being granted this very reasonable accommodation, and then began inventing rules to deny me it, and then going back on those very rules when I pointed out their fallacies. Even my faculty union dissuaded me from asking from reasonable accommodation–my right under the law. I was told that I could be “accommodated out of a job.” (This same dean allowed a new mother to teach online classes from home thus granting her the ease of being a new parent while being allowed to work and earn income. Likewise, the district recently hired an abled professor who teaches online classes from her office alongside teaching out of lecture halls, so it’s clear I was the target of discrimination.)

    This gave me pause. I thought, “Wait a minute. I teach in an art department and am a member of a faculty labor union. Aren’t I supposed to get my accommodations under the law?”

    Eventually, my dean made good on the promise to deny me accommodations. Supreme Court law from 2013 states that disabled workers are granted priority under E.E.O.C. v. United Airlines, Inc., 693 F.3d 760, 761 (7th Cir. 2012).

    Unable to pay a hefty retainer to a lawyer and unaided by my faculty union, I did not have the resources to fight. I quit my job.


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