Academic Ableism’s Purpose

Following on Saturday’s post about inaccessibility at Yale University, this post draws attention to the purpose that the inaccessibility of the university serves.

Readers and listeners of this post might think that the previous sentence was misworded or inaptly phrased. Why would I suggest that the inaccessibility of the university serves a purpose? The sort of mishaps described in my recent post about inaccessibility at Yale are accidental and rare, aren’t they? Wasn’t Arya Singh, the disabled student trapped in a chair lift for four hours when she attempted to attend a professor’s office hours in Yale’s Linsly-Chittenden Hall, simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, the victim of a gap in administrative oversight and responsibility?

Perhaps not. Disability studies scholars such as Jay T. Dolmage argue that the inaccessibility of the university is in fact one means, but only one, through which academia sorts out disabled people from the population whose future it aims to develop and promote. In Foucault and Feminist Philosophy of Disability, I present ways in which the discipline and profession of philosophy in general and bioethics in particular, as well as the structural and economic inaccessibility of the university more generally, contribute to this segregation of the disabled population.

In the four years that I coordinated and contributed to Discrimination and Disadvantage, I posted numerous times about the forms that institutionalized ableism in the university takes, including architectural inaccessibility, pedagogical inaccessibility, prohibition of assistive devices, and so on. A search through the archives of that blog will bear fruit on these topics, as we build an archive at BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY that documents academic ableism, including inaccessibility, expanding these topics and related issues.

A pattern emerges when one allows oneself to recognize it. Academic ableism is intentional and nonsubjective (see here). Nevertheless, many philosophers will likely wish to continue to think that Arya Singh’s predicament was an anomaly, if not that Singh herself is an anomaly.

On Saturday, the CBC website posted an article about Ali Imrie, a York University student, who uses a wheelchair and has repeatedly confronted snow-filled pathways as she attempts to attend classes at Osgoode Hall Law School and elsewhere on the York campus. Another anomaly?

Here is an excerpt from the CBC article which includes a video of Imrie and a friend attempting to push her through the snow:

Ali Imrie says it’s only 500 metres from her student apartment to Osgoode Hall Law School on the York University campus in Toronto, but even so, she wasn’t able to make it to all her classes this week due to uncleared snow.

“Honestly, this week hasn’t been any different than any other week in the snow,” she said.

Imrie says she has been flagging the problem for some time now, and she wants a more permanent solution.

“It got to the point, last January, where I had a rotating schedule of which friend could meet me before or after class to help me get there,” she told CBC Toronto.

She says she contacted the school about it repeatedly, but the problem of uncleared snow persisted. “The reaction will be reactive and in the moment — it’s fixed. But given it’s been a year and I keep needing to bring it up every time it snows, what’s missing is the proactive piece. There’s not really been any lasting change.”

While it would be ideal to have the paths clear at all times, [Imrie] says the ones heavily used by students with mobility issues should perhaps get priority when it comes to snow clearing.

“There’s different implications for me versus someone who’s walking.”

She is also quick to note that lack of accessibility is not just a problem her school needs to fix.

She says on her route to class, she has to travel on a sidewalk partially owned by the city.

She says it’s rarely cleared after a snowstorm.

“It’s an issue everywhere.”

Read or listen to the article about Ali Imrie and inaccessibility at York here.

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