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.
ABOUT: 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.
(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