(How) I Ruined the APA’s Reputation Amongst Disability Studies Scholars

I think it would be safe to say that I have ruined the reputation of the American Philosophical Association (APA) in the disability studies community. I admit it. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that doing so wasn’t a difficult thing to do.

My earlier uncoordinated complaints and criticisms notwithstanding, I first publicly tarnished the APA’s image amongst members of the disability studies community when, in 2013, I published “Introducing Feminist Philosophy of Disability,” the introduction to a special issue of Disability Studies Quarterly, the leading peer-reviewed journal in disability studies. The theme of the issue was “Improving Feminist Philosophy and Theory By Taking Account of Disability.”

As guest editor, my introduction to the issue, which was designed to provide a context in which the contributions to the issue could be situated, described the numerous ways in which disabled philosophers, and disabled feminist philosophers in particular, are excluded from various venues of feminist and other philosophy, as well as how philosophy of disability is marginalized in the discipline. In the course of my discussion, I offered a cursory, though in some respects, detailed, account of the widespread inaccessibility of the APA’s conferences, website, and communications, its repeated violations of the ADA, and so on.

This contribution to the issue, that is, my introductory article, has been widely read by members of the disability studies community (and also feminist and other philosophers). With the article, I seem to have irrevocably marred the APA’s reputation amongst disability studies theorists and researchers who do not take lightly the issue of inaccessibility nor the ways in which it limits the careers and life-prospects of disabled academics.

Then, in 2014, I and others circulated a petition* that called upon the APA to rectify its exclusionary practices by (among other things) improving the accessibility to its conferences, website, and so on, and creating a Committee on Disabled Philosophers** analogous to committees on Black philosophers, Asian philosophers, LGBTQ philosophers, and other marginalized groups, a committee that would confer the same benefits and rights on disabled philosophers that the APA affords other social groups marginalized in the profession. The petition received close to 500 signatures from members of the philosophical community. In addition, members of the disability studies community took notice of the petition and even mobilized behind it.

(The APA responded defensively to the petition, even publishing on its website a misleading letter from three disabled philosophers about how the APA’s approach to the inclusion and participation of disabled people met the “gold standard” of accessibility.)

In September of 2015, I disparaged the APA’s image yet again when I published a Dialogues on Disability interview with disabled philosophy graduate student Ray Aldred in which he described the substantial and humiliating inaccessibility that he encountered when he attempted to participate in the Pacific APA conference in Vancouver earlier that year. Other disabled philosophers have subsequently encountered similar predicaments at APA conferences or have, because of inaccessiblity, entirely cancelled their reservations and arrangements to attend APA conferences.***

As if I hadn’t done enough to compromise the image of the APA amongst the disability studies community, I published Foucault and Feminist Philosophy of Disability in late 2017 in which I, once again, drew attention to the inaccessibility of the APA, its repeated violations of the ADA, and the defensive posturing of its leadership on these matters. The book has received considerable attention amongst disability studies people and feminist philosophers. Since a symposium on the book will take place at the upcoming Pacific APA, who knows what will happen in the session? Who knows what professional mischief I will incite?

And because I seem to be unable to leave well enough alone, I did it even more recently. That is, yesterday I publicly cast more aspersion on the profession of philosophy and the APA in particular when I drew attention to the inaccessibility of the APA and the profession more generally, as well as the failure of the APA leadership to appropriately and adequately address it.

How did I do this? I told everyone on my Facebook page that, in the course of an email exchange with the Executive Director of the APA on Monday, she indicated that the APA will not provide microphones at all of the APA sessions of the upcoming Pacific conference and that the APA “hopes to develop best practices around accessibility in the future.” As I brazenly pointed out to my Facebook friends, the APA’s CEO asserts that the APA cannot afford to provide its disabled members with equitable spaces and opportunities due to its “limited budget.”

To make things even more difficult for the beleaguered leadership of the APA, I pointed out in the course of the email exchange (which a number of cc-ed others passively observed) that nondisabled philosophers should begin to think seriously about becoming donors and benefactors for best practice policies around accessibility for disabled philosophers because the APA itself does not seem motivated to take such measures anytime soon.

At the risk of utterly disgracing myself, I want to underscore this suggestion. If the APA leadership will not provide the means with which disabled philosophers can equitably participate in the profession, including at APA conferences, then philosophers with sufficient financial means (and there are many), especially (nondisabled) philosophers who have historically benefitted from the ableism of the profession and discipline (and there are many), must begin to do it themselves. I vow that if this sort of movement is initiated, I will go on to every disability research list and Facebook group of which I am a member and try to revive the reputation of the APA (and philosophy more generally) that I have so grievously tainted.

*I simultaneously published “Disabling Philosophy” in The Philososopher’s Magazine, drawing attention to the APA’s inaccessibility and some of these other issues.

**I had previously stated in my article “Introducing Feminist Philosophy of Disability” that a Committee on Disabled Philosophers should be formed in order to provide to disabled philosophers the benefits and rights that other groups marginalized in philosophy enjoy, such as newsletters.

***When, in the course of my email exchange with the APA CEO, I noted these situations, she proudly pointed out that the APA has set up a Task Force on Disabled Philosophers to investigate the position and treatment of disabled philosophers in the association. What she didn’t mention is that three of the five original members of the committee were the three disabled philosophers who had previously indicated that the APA’s approach to the participation of disabled philosophers is excellent, beyond reproach.

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