A Little Tip of the Hat to Voltaire While Thinking About Ableism

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

I work at a university which makes me lucky I guess. One wonders how much longer there will be any universities. I also wonder if in the future there will be any jobs for disabled faculty. I’m a rarity–a blind professor.

As a blind professor I’m like a lost glove–it’s been located but no one knows what to do with it. In other words, being disabled in a normative environment is problematic. Moreover the disabled person becomes the problem rather than the situational dynamics of ableism. You know, ableism, the inherent notion that the disabled are a problem.

The way this unfolds in the workplace–at least from my blind perspective–is a threefold process. You ask for an accessible powerpoint presentation “before” the meeting when it will be displayed so you can read it with your screen reading app. This bothers people. It’s inconvenient. Ableism runs on inconvenience just as America runs on Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. There’s delay. When you complain, well, you’re not a team player.

During my nine years at my present university I’ve never gotten a power point in advance of a meeting. Nor have I ever gotten accessible documents, agendas, pdfs in advance of a meeting. Not once. Moreover my near decade of calling this out has earned me the reputation of being, you guessed it, problematic.

Another microagrression that’s familiar to the disabled is the “non-response” –notably not replying to emails or phone calls that the disabled person has made.

Lately I’ve been writing about the fact that there are almost no disabled faculty in higher ed here in the US and that the field of disability studies has very few disabled faculty in its ranks.

These things astonish me.

It is reputed that on his deathbed Voltaire said, “now is not the time to make enemies” when a priest asked him to renounce Satan.

I can get along with anyone. But don’t deny me my agency. Especially if you purport to care about equal rights for all.

Author: skuusisto

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

One thought on “A Little Tip of the Hat to Voltaire While Thinking About Ableism”

  1. Amazing, utterly amazing! I admit I thought I was a remnant of a dying breed, the final dinosaur as evolved animals moved forward–the braille-using Hebrew and Judaics teacher at the local synagogue in Salem OR whose simple requests for advance copies of print materials, etc were overlooked for my entire 15 years of feaching; whose competence and willingness to do more were too often pushed aside. Somehow I thought the size and nature of the institution was the problem, but apparently I am wrong. It grieves me terribly that we are still l fighting this battle of personhood. It’s not about ability or disability…it is simply about equity as humans. Thanks for sharin your experience and wisdom. I look forward to reading more of you, and wish you the best on your journey. I am with you in the struggle!


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