On University Constructions of Shaming Environments

Cover of Planet of the Blind....man and dog....

I should come clean and straight off: I regret having been a disabled professor. Regret follows me from room to room and there’s no help for it. I’m considered less capable, less collegial, more of a nuisance than any of my colleagues. There are too few like me in the faculty ranks to be of consequence. I’ve been tenured at three major universities and been accorded more misery than I care to relate for it gets soggy and yet, without a cadre of disabled faculty I can tell only you that talking back to dismissive and ableist faculty and administrators who don’t like your relentless call for accessible websites and buildings earns one the reputation for being a malcontent. What keeps me going?

Sheer stubbornness. I’m of Finnish. descent. My people are granitic and quite stoical. I’m not happy with suffering but I recognize it as one of the effects of gravity. This means despite the fact that I’m a poet I’m also discerning. Why should academics be more tolerant of the disabled than any other group? Higher education is predicated on the unspoken notion that everyone is for herself or himself and they’re in a race against others. Everyone knows the story of the graduate student who finds the important pages razored out of the books on reserve. This is the way of it.

Here’s to the colleagues who haven’t joined me in calling for visual presentations to be fully accessible to the blind as well as the deaf.

Here’s to deans who’ve treated my demands for access both for myself and others are a sign of my problematic identity.

Here’s to the construction of shaming environments where the disabled feel more than marginalized, they are made to feel the full weight of their presence.

Here’s to the merciless stampede toward AI and autonomous systems in lieu of an abiding and conscious understanding of diversity. The latter means recognizing that people of color, queer folks, the disabled have been medicalized, tracked, and demeaned for centuries. And not much welcomed.

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 “On University Constructions of Shaming Environments”

  1. Dear Most Abled One,

    I am just one of your reader fans, but I’m so glad to hear you are being your stubborn self to match the witless stubbornness all around you. It seems to me that the ones you’ve been calling “abled” are extremely “disabled.” They cannot easily adapt to physical or mental limitations suddenly thrust upon them. They may have eyes that can see the skies, but they have no inner eyes to see anything! No insight. No hindsight. No foresight. Their eyes are way more shut than yours.

    Wait till they get old. I’m old and losing my vision to macular degeneration. Things I could easily read a few years ago I can no longer read. What’s happening to me makes me absolutely marvel at your poetry, your humor, your persistence—and your doggies. You share all of yourself with so many people you don’t even know. You touch their feelings. That’s the key. Those others that you speak of are blind to how many people you inspire—and even more blind to how many more you could inspire given equipment to make it easier to do what you do. You’re a marvel. God Bless.

    Go for it.

    With love, Latifah Taormina


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