Disabled in the Faculty Ranks, A Tiresome Tale…

If you’re like me and you’ve a disability and you work in higher education you know that discrimination on the basis of physical difference is just as rampant from the left as the right. If you’re a faculty member who requires accommodations in the workplace you’re a nuisance. You might even be an embarrassment. I’ll never forget walking in a faculty procession with my guide dog and actually hearing a university trustee snicker as I passed. The chuckle wasn’t friendly and it spoke volumes. “Look! There goes our esteemed faculty! I always told you they didn’t know anything!” This happened at Syracuse University and yet it could have occurred on any campus. Disabled faculty are not the norm. Worse, we face bureaucratic delay and dismissive arguments when we bring up the inaccessibility of physical and digital spaces.   

I submit it’s hard to avoid growing bitter. It’s hard to feel the very apparent lack of interest in disability discrimination even from faculty who hail from other marginalized positions. No one wants to imagine disability as being intersectional. Diversity and inclusion generally doesn’t include the cripples. Because this is so, the loneliness of being disabled in the faculty ranks is considerable. Ableism is a machine for isolation and deprivation. When you say, well people of color also have disabilities people look at their watches. The great liberal fiction is that universities are welcoming. All of this came to the surface for me this morning when I read about two black professors at the University of Virginia who were denied tenure. The academy does not welcome bodies of difference and while I’m not a person of color I can say I’ve seen the discriminatory daily routines “up close and personal” and I’m getting pretty close to being worn out. 

Not so long ago I was called an “ignoramus” by a fellow faculty member who was snotty to me and my white cane. I know, it’s hard to believe. Of course It is never appropriate to call anyone an ignoramus in an educational setting for the term’s antonym s are “brain “ and “genius” and its synonyms include: airhead, birdbrain, blockhead, bonehead, bubblehead, chowderhead, chucklehead, clodpoll (or clodpole), clot [British], cluck, clunk, cretin, cuddy (or cuddie) [British dialect], deadhead, dim bulb [slang], dimwit, dip, dodo, dolt, donkey, doofus [slang], dope, dork [slang], dullard, dum-dum, dumbbell, dumbhead, dummkopf, dummy, dunce, dunderhead, fathead, gander, golem, goof, goon, half-wit, hammerhead, hardhead, idiot, imbecile, jackass, know-nothing, knucklehead, lamebrain, loggerhead [chiefly dialect], loon, lump, lunkhead, meathead, mome [archaic], moron, mug [chiefly British], mutt, natural, nimrod [slang], nincompoop, ninny, ninnyhammer, nit [chiefly British], nitwit, noddy, noodle, numskull (or numbskull), oaf, pinhead, prat [British], ratbag [chiefly Australian], saphead, schlub (also shlub) [slang], schnook [slang], simpleton, stock, stupe, stupid, thickhead, turkey, woodenhead, yahoo, yo-yo…

As a disabled person I know full well what the delegitimizing effects of language can do to anyone who hails from a historically marginalized background but where disability is concerned the labeling I’ve described has a particularly specious and ugly history. Idiot, moron, half-wit, dolt, cretin are all familiar to the disabled. One would expect relief from these terms at a university. What’s particularly galling is that the subject I was discussing with the professor in question was ableism—namely that I’d said hello to him on an elevator, I, a blind man with a white cane, and he simply stared at me. No acknowledgement. When two students got on the elevator he lit up and talked breezily about how he hates snow. I followed him to his office and said that by not acknowledging a blind person he creates a social dynamic that feels off-putting and I wanted to discuss the matter. He became instantly contemptuous.

Now of course that’s because of the synonyms above. In this man’s antediluvian world view the disabled really shouldn’t be in the academy. Ableism is not only more pervasive than people generally understand its also more consistent at universities than is commonly recognized.

As for me, I’m an ignorant man to professor “p” for that’s what I’m calling him. “P” for privileged.

He doesn’t know it yet, but incapacities likely await him.

Some day, long after I’m dead colleges and universities will be welcoming places for all. And disabled folks who are people of color will thrive. And yes blind people will not be laughed at. 

Mr. President I’m One of Those Who Needs Reassurance

I’m disabled, Mr. President. I work with the disabled. We represent every ethnicity and nationality: we’re old, young, veterans, parents; we’re gay and straight, and yes, we have physical and other limitations that cause us to be medically and socially vulnerable. When yesterday you rebuked NBC reporter Peter Alexander for his “nasty” question about how you might reassure anxious Americans you essentially dismissed the 60 plus million Americans with Disabilities. I think you knew you were doing it.

Not once in any of your press conferences about the novel Coronavirus has the word disability been uttered. Not once. I know why. You think Americans who need “reassurance” are weak. Moreover you think without irony that life is unfair. When asked why star athletes are getting virus tests while ordinary Americans are waiting you told us this is how life in America operates. Reassurance is a pesky word isn’t it? It means to restore people to confidence. What about those of us who’ve never had it in the first place? While you berated Mr. Alexander you were essentially saying America is a cruel craps game and the losers can go to hell.

There was nothing nasty or corrupt about Alexander’s question, Mr. President. Where will the disabled get treatment when the majority of our hospitals and clinics are only conditionally accessible? Where will those who rely on Medicare get help when so many states have been cutting services prior to this health emergency? What is the VA doing to assist wounded warriors who may contract the virus, especially older veterans? I suppose you’d say these are nasty questions too.

When the Nazis came to power Hitler declared the disabled “useless eaters’ and insisted the only valuable citizens in Germany were those who were hail and hearty. That’s an extreme way of saying life is unfair. By showing no empathy toward the most vulnerable in society you’re essentially saying the same thing. No wonder the health experts who stood behind you yesterday looked stricken. No wonder they wanted very clearly to hide their faces. You thought you were demeaning NBC but you were stomping on those who need help the most.

“With” Disability, or, the Phenomenology of Zoom

“With” a disability has always struck me as a very odd expression as the preposition is transformed by it’s company. A bottle of claret with your steak; a scissors with the paper, each conveys a cathected, sub-transitive eidon; “with” is in tandem, in situ, and peradventure going nowhere, for though the wine may be drunk and the paper sliced “with” is obedient. Static. It remains so in social terms—“she’s with him; they’re with the team; it assumes a giving away. He’s a fan because he’s with the team. Your personhood goes nowhere save in concert with the Yankees.

“With” disability strains the preposition, twists it like a spine with scoliosis because disablement is, no matter what many may think, never static. Since disability is never fixed or steady the preposition is tacitly broken—a woman is not with her multiple sclerosis but instead must, necessarily have a phenomenological experience of it—enact it, inspirit, intention it, and thereby make it artful. Disability is, as the phenomenologists say, “categorical intuition” and there cannot be a “with” where escape enjoys primacy.

Person first language is faulty because it’s reliance on prepositions is so entirely imprecise.  Ezra Pound once said something like “the poet is the antennae of the race” which as a figure suggests the imagination is intuitive, probative, and out ahead of the culture. I am ahead of my disability, not with it. This is disability as phenomenological and intellectual action.

In my forthcoming book about the art of living and working with a guide dog I write about precisely this awareness…

We talk about the art of getting naked or of flower arranging, but we never speak of the art of becoming disabled. In America disability is discussed simply as rehabilitation, as if living is no more complicated than lighting a stove. 

The art of getting disabled is a necessary subject. When we look to history we find examples of this art everywhere. Disabled makers stand against loss.  They make something of difference. When traveling in France Thomas Jefferson broke his wrist. A surgeon set the break badly. A major facet of his life was changed forever.  He was forced to put aside his treasured violin. In turn he took up long, slow, leisurely horseback rides as a meditative practice. 

Blind people don’t necessarily need dogs. White cane travel is a very fine way to get around. But I say guide dog travel is an art. It’s a means toward living much as Jefferson learned to live. Moving in consort with an animal is one way to make a life. Art is mysterious. Some find a path to a certain form. Some find an unlike form. 

Thomas Jefferson sang to his horses. He was very fond of singing. Moving in consort requires it I think.

It’s hard to imagine singing to a white cane. 

I sang all kinds of things to Corky. For her the singing meant contentment. Often I went into my bad operatic mode and sang Neapolitan love songs to her. Cardilo’s “Core N’grato” was one of my repeated offenses:

Catarí, Catarí, pecché me dici

sti parole amare;

pecché me parle e ‘o core me turmiente,



The Great Caruso I was not. I reckon the sight of a man with sunglasses singing in bad Italian to a harnessed dog may well have been amusing to many. 


Do you need to sing to live well? No. I’ve a great good friend who is nonspeaking. But in turn his whole body is music. 

My deaf friends sing. 

Many of my wheelchair pals are dancers. 

Several of my disabled friends are comedians. 

We crackle, zip, exhale, inhale, sport with our fingers, flap, jump, pop wheelies, and jingle with harnesses.

Resourceful life is practiced. Sometimes it is silly. Art can and often should be frivolous. With permission from curators at the Museum of Modern Art I was once allowed to spin Marcel DuChamp’s famous wheel, a bicycle fork with front wheel mounted upside-down on a wooden stool. DuChamp was a DaDaist. He made art by placing things side by side that did not formally belong together. A MOMA staff member handed me a pair of latex gloves and I pulled them on and with Corky watching beside me, I reached out and gave DuChamp’s aluminum wheel a spin. “This is the steering wheel of my life,” I thought. Frivolous motion.

I certainly know some blind folks who’d say I’m over the top talking about art in the context of service dog life and to each his own. All I know for sure is what a guide dog can do. Though the stationary wheel of your life seems forever stopped, your dog says give it a turn.



I am no more “with” a disability than I am “with” a tire iron. One understands both the preposition and the noun fail to describe anything.


"Welcome to the 38th Disability Blog Carnival!" says Kathryn

The theme of this carnival, organized by Kathryn on her blog: Ryn Tales Book of Days, is "Spirituality and Disability"

"Many philosophers have thought
along with Descartes that "the unexamined life is not worth living".
And Shakespeare said, "Know thyself!" To that end the topic for this
carnival is about the spiritual meaning of experiencing disability
either first or secondhand in this life. I think you will find some
very thoughtful and in many cases poetic examinations of lives being
lived by the carnival’s contributors."

A great deal of thought and work is put into these Disability Blog Carnivals.  Take a few minutes, will you, to stop by, read some great posts, and say hello.   

Cross-posted on Blog [with]tv

Allies: the Theme of the 33rd Disability Blog Carnival

Ruth has put together the 33rd (WOW!) Disability Blog Carnival and it is now available on her blog, WHEELIE CATHOLIC.  Borrowing from Ruth:

"The theme of this carnival is "Appreciating Allies". So, what and who are allies? Wikipedia says
that " those who share a common goal and whose work toward that goal is
complementary may be viewed as allies for various purposes even when no
explicit agreement has been worked out between them."

pointed out that there are opportunities for those of us in the
disability community to act as allies. In so doing, she was kind enough
to mention Anna’s Pakman’s survey on Media Consumption and people with disabilities on her carnival.  According to Anna:

“the Nielsen ratings track media consumption for just about
every population EXCEPT our community so the only way I can get this
data is through your assistance. All individual survey responses are
anonymous and will be kept strictly confidential.”

is a perfect opportunity to say "thanks" to all ALLIES who in one way
or the other support our efforts. And a special thanks to Ruth.  We are
fortunate to consider her an ally, as are many others.  Of that we have
no doubt.

Cross-posted on Blog [with]tv and Crimes Against People with Disabilities.

Superman Bolsters This Super Disability Blog Carnival!

Whew!  It’s not too late to enjoy the SUPERMAN! Disability Blog Carnival posted on Emma’s blog.
And the equally good news is that you don’t have to be faster than a
speeding bullet to get there on time!  Enjoy it at your leisure – and
enjoy it you will.

Cross-posted on Blog [with]tv

Disability Blog Carnival #30: What Professionals Need to Know

The 30th Disability Blog Carnival, the subject of which is "what professionals need to know" was pulled together by Kathryn on her blog Ryn Tale’s Book of Days

"I got the idea for this
carnival in thinking about the sensitivity and understanding or lack of
both by medical professionals regarding what a patient’s life is really
like. In my experience therapists, doctors, teachers, school
psychologists who have shown true empathy, a willingness to listen, and
respect for me and for Ellie have, sadly, been in the minority. I wish
more professionals would try to educate themselves about the people
they are trying to help."

Kathryn, we appreciate the work you put into this.  Now, if only we could get the professionals to read it.

~ CK

Cross-posted on Blog [with]tv

Hope for the Media

by Stephen Kuusisto

I teach English at The University of Iowa and some of my classes are
focused on disability in the literary arts. One book that I like to
give my students is the groundbreaking history of disability in the
movies The Cinema of Isolation
by Martin Norden. This book shocks students when they first encounter
it, for few realize that movies have featured disabled characters from
the very beginning of the film industry. What’s even more eye opening
is how poorly Hollywood has treated people with disabilities from day
one. The old footage rolls again and students see malevolent and
monstrous "cripples" for disability functioned in these old films as a
metaphor rather than just being a part of daily life.

When those early movies weren’t using people with disabilities as
figures of moral judgment they eagerly used them as low comic
characters whose afflictions were funny because the lame tried to walk
or the blind tried to do the work of the sighted. "Low comedy" means
humor that relies on slapstick or vulgarity. "The Three Stooges" are a
good example of low comedy. In turn, of course, "High comedy" uses
verbal sophistication and artful disguises to achieve its effects.
Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure or All’s Well That Ends Well are good examples of the genre.

What the students find out all too quickly is that first in movies,
and then in television, people with disabilities have been almost
uniformly presented as "figures" who represent immorality or
ineptitude. Between these two poles one also finds Victorian
representations of absolute purity like Charles Dickens’ "Tiny Tim" who
stands for the angelic compensations of suffering and whose presence in
the story is necessary if Scrooge is to be redeemed. Alas, Tiny Tim is
as unreal as all the other stock disabled characters in TV and film

When my students look for contemporary depictions of real people
with disabilities in the media they discover that the field is still
quite narrow. Some of them point to the current "reality TV" series "Little People, Big World"
on the Learning Channel. Others point to "Monk", a detective show that
features a leading man who solves crimes because he has an
obsessive-compulsive disorder. In the movies there have been some
notable triumphs over the past thirty years like "My Left Foot" and
"Children of a Lesser God" and students eagerly mention Marlee
Maitlin’s character on the hit TV show "The West Wing".

There have been some undeniable advancements in the representations
of people with disabilities in Hollywood and the TV industry.
Nevertheless it remains hard to find substantive mainstream reporting
about disability on network or cable TV. When disability does appear on
the nightly news or as part of a daytime interview program like "The
Oprah Winfrey Show" often presented as an "overcoming story"- a
narrative in which a person  with a disability is either cured by means
of medicine or spiritual belief, or in turn they are distinguished by
their ability to inspire others by successfully denying that they have
any kind of limitation. As any person with a disability can tell you,
we need better reporting.

Real people with disabilities are impatient for change and ready to
take their places in the media arts. I believe that our time is coming
– perhaps slowly, but surely.

Disability in the media is the topic of the next Disability Blog Carnival, to be hosted on Blog [with]tv Thursday, January 10.  JOIN US!

Submit your blog article to the next edition of
disability blog carnival using our carnival
submission form
. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival
index page

Cross-posted on Blog [with]tv

Disability Blog Carnival: A Few of Our Favorite Things

Andrea is buzzing as only she can as "an insect psychologist" and this time she’s posted on behalf of the Disability Blog Carnival.  Her carnival theme is "A Few of Our Favorite Things" and she informs us "these tend to fall into three categories:  technology that enables us to do things, creature comforts, and human interaction."

Carnival hosts and participants love feedback as it’s what makes us all feel connected.  So grab some cookies and milk, stop by Andrea’s place, and say hello to the bloggers you meet!

On the Bright Side

When the call went out for entries for a disability blog carnival having to do with “a few of my favorite things” I must admit that I scratched my head. Then I scratched my head again. Sometimes I can just sit and scratch for indecent amounts of time.

The call for blog posts having to do with one’s “favorite things” didn’t suggest that one had to write about disability, and yet I persisted with my scratching because (of course) "my favorite things” becomes a far more challenging and complex topic when filtered through the grinder of disability.

It’s not so easy to sing like Julie Andrews about the simple pleasures of puppies and snow on one’s eyelashes when the electric wheelchair is unable to get through the unshoveled crosswalks or the dog guide user is told that she or he can’t come into a restaurant though the law permits guide dogs everywhere. For me, the daily remembrance that people with disabilities remain marginally employed in the United States is sufficient to keep me from singing like Maria von Trapp.

Still its possible to say with honesty that there are beautiful dimensions to living life with one or more disabilities, and it remains important for people with disabilities to say so.

Of course I can’t speak for the entire dairy industry—I can’t even speak for the cheese makers. I certainly shouldn’t be read as a spokesperson for all blind or visually impaired people. And with that cautionary rubric out of the way, here are a few of my favorite things about blindness:

Continue reading “On the Bright Side”