13 February, 2010

the stuff in italics is what I'm actually going to say

I am dropping your class. I feel like I have trouble relating to and grasping the concept of ableism as it is portrayed in the class.

The idea of not discussing specific disabilities or people's personal experiences makes me feel really confused. As a disabled person, I experience ableism in a way that feels very specific. For example, because I am not visibly disabled, I often get to avoid the experience of being stared at or treated oddly by strangers; but I am also expected to educate others about my disability in order to explain why I need help, and run the risk that people will simply refuse to believe my disability is real. Because I have a disability that is somewhat fashionable in the media, I get to be seen as interesting (albeit in a rather insulting way), while people with less fashionable disabilities, like Down Syndrome, are treated like wastes of space. Because I have a non-physical disability, I am often left out of conversations about disability.

By using those examples, I'm not trying to say that I want to constantly talk about my own experiences in class, but just that ableism in my opinion can be very specific and it's hard for me to understand it the way it's being presented in the class. I feel like I don't know how to talk about ableism without focusing on particular aspects and themes. I'm having trouble relating to what the class is about and I feel that I wouldn't do well in the class.

I also feel uncomfortable because it seems that most of the people in the class are not disabled so I feel othered. By avoiding specifics, it seems like we're working from the perspective that everyone already understands a lot about disability and ableism, which, from my experience with most nondisabled people, couldn't be further from the truth. I also think that you set up the class in a way that isn't accessible. In the syllabus you make a big deal of emphasizing that assignments have to be turned in a very specific way (for no apparent reason), can't ever be late, and have to be formatted in a very specific way. I think that having very rigid policies about how things have to be done is ableist, because it means that people are being judged on their ability to follow a strict set of rules instead of the work they're actually doing. You have a special section on the syllabus saying that disabled students can go through the disability services office to receive accommodations. I think this is ableist because it means that disabled people have to do all the work to be treated equally. I don't see why a person can't just say that it's easier for them to email something, or whatever. I have a lot of trouble planning and executing tasks, so the fact that you have all these rules about how to turn in a paper makes it much harder for me to do a paper and this has nothing to do with my actual intelligence or ability to do the actual core of the work (the paper or whatever).

Also, I feel that this wouldn't be considered a legitimate accommodation by the disability services office because they are also pretty medical model and would just tell me that I should work harder to switch from one task to another. Stuff on an ADA level ("prove you need something very concrete, and I'll give it to you"), is something, but for someone who's teaching a disability studies class, especially a nondisabled person who's teaching a disability studies class to mostly other nondisabled people, it's not enough.

P.S. if anyone can help me figure out how to say some of the non-italics stuff in a briefer and less obviously distraught way, I'd love that. I realized that my only reasons for wanting to stay in the class are a)anxiety about changing my schedule, and b)it makes me really angry and I guess I want to call them out or something. A) is something I can get over, and am getting over by discussing with my friends the fact that my schedule will change, and writing the new schedule in places where I can see it. B) is completely ridiculous, I know, but I just want to accomplish a little of it, tactfully, with this email.

P.P.S. This is actually exactly what I want to say, if anyone can help me put it in the form of an email:

maybe I should just record it and send it to her (kidding)


  1. I think this is very well put.

    But I was actually commenting to say that you have a lovely singing voice.

  2. I think you should send it as is. It's really important to call people out (especially when they're trying to teach a class on this stuff!) and I don't think you sound obviously distraught or overemotional at all. This is very clear and well-written.

  3. I honestly don't think the part that isn't in italics is inappropriate. I mean, if you really want to avoid sounding horrible you could rephrase certain sentences to reinforce that it's your personal experience. If nothing else, I think it's important to say it because it will at least get your teacher thinking.

    By rephrasing certain sentences I mean minor things like, changing "your class isn't accessible" to "it isn't accessible to me" -- your teacher will probably take it to still mean the exact same thing; i guess you're just more polite this way and should he be offended, he really has no reason to, because you're clearly just stating your own opinion. (Plus, I think the class IS accessible, if only to some people. Maybe this is just me being anal about it.)

    Similarly, maybe I'd change (for no apparent reason) to (for which I don't see an apparent reason).
    I guess I learnt to formulate criticism that way in Communication classes and now I never shy away from it because I think I'd like to be spoken to in that way, if someone were to criticise me.

    Maybe that last line ('it's not enough') is a little harsh, but it does really sum up your point of criticism, and it seems like a key phrase to me. Personally I guess I'd say something like "From someone teaching this subject blablabla, I would have higher expectations"
    But really, if you send it the way it is, I don't think it would be wrong. It's just a matter of what you want to say and how you want to say it. Clearly, this is what you want to say, and it might as well be how. I hope you send it though, whether you rephrase it or not.

    (I never comment on your blog because I don't use my own account, and it makes me feel like I should say "Oh hi, it's Nicky" and I don't want to say that.)