The Online Accessibility Pledge and Feminist Philosophy Conferences

As the number of philosophers who have signed on to the Online Accessibility Pledge continues to grow, it is worth noting that few feminist philosophers have committed to the pledge. The reluctance or refusal of feminist philosophers to sign the pledge suggests that the structural and systemic character of the apparatus of disability remains largely misunderstood in the feminist philosophical community, as it were, references to “disability justice” and “crip theory” in Calls for Papers notwithstanding.

Thus, I want to point out that the organization and provision of an online conference (feminist or otherwise) is a political act of solidarity with disabled philosophers, low-income philosophers, and philosophers outside of North America, among others. Indeed, it is no surprise that a great many (though not all) signatories to the pledge reside and work outside of Canada and the U.S. and seem to be unaffiliated.

On the Daily Nous post that was largely devoted to undermining the pledge, I asked whether there was an issue on which nondisabled philosophers and philosophers who pass/have passed as nondisabled would demonstrate their support for and solidarity with disabled philosophers. I posed the question in response to a number of objections to online conferences that had been made on the post but also, implicitly, in light of the indifference that most philosophers seem to show to a range of concerns that disabled philosophers articulate, including concern about the discourse of eugenics that the subfield of bioethics constitutes and comprises.

The one comment made in response to me was predictable in character, first, making dubious claims about the allegedly universal appeal of in-person conferences, followed by erroneous speculations about how future philosophy conferences will be funded if online conferences are taken seriously, and finally, a defensive retort according to which philosophers who refuse to sign the pledge do not obviously lack “goodwill” toward disabled philosophers. The invocation of the term goodwill in this interlocutor’s comment is notable, providing a clear signal that the presence of disabled philosophers in philosophical spaces is still widely regarded as a discretionary act, as charitable, as retractable, as contingent upon the preferences, projects, and plans of others.

Indeed, it is difficult to understand why feminist philosophers continue to implicitly sanction the depoliticization of structural inequity that the inaccessibility of philosophy conferences and objections to online conferences exemplify. To wit, it is difficult to understand how feminist philosophy conferences that are not at least hybrid (i.e., online and in person) in their delivery continue to take place at all, why their feminist organizers feel justified in organizing them and how they can justify them, why feminist philosophers continue to attend them, as well as how they justify their attendance at them. For such conferences fly in the face of claims with respect to diversity, accessibility, and inclusivity that feminist philosophers otherwise advance.

I was happy to see two members of the Canadian Society for Women in Philosophy (CSWIP) Accessibility Committee sign on to the Online Accessibility Pledge. For the past two years, CSWIP has cancelled its annual conference because the designated organizers seemed unwilling to envision online alternatives to the group’s usual in-person conferences. To the delight of many CSWIP members, the conference is scheduled to take place in person again this Fall at a location in the northeastern U.S. In addition to the off-putting eagerness to return to in-person conferences that some CSWIP members have displayed, the decision to locate the conference in the U.S. itself seems difficult to understand and uncritically accept insofar as it renders the conference even more inaccessible to some Canadian feminist philosophers, especially given the exchange rate of the Canadian dollar.

What about other feminist philosophy conferences?

Alas, the Association for Feminist Ethics and Social Theory (FEAST) Conference is scheduled to take place, in person, at its usual resort location in Florida this Fall. Although the CFP for the conference indicates that the FEAST Association has “extensive measures in place to ensure [that the conference is] accessible and welcoming to all potential participants,” no indication is given in the CFP that these measures include a virtual alternative to the in-person venue.

Given the generally conservative character of feminist bioethics and the close alliance between the Feminist Approaches to Bioethics Association (FAB) and the International Association of Bioethics (IAB), it will be interesting to see whether the “current plans” for a hybrid IAB/FAB conference extend beyond this summer’s World Congress. The enthusiasm for the in-person dimension of the upcoming World Congress that I perceive in the FAB CFP for the conference suggests that it will not.

The upcoming philoSOPHIA conference to take place in early June for which Melinda Hall, Isaac Jiang, and I have organized a panel will have a hybrid format. Our panel will be delivered virtually. I have no impression of what the future holds with respect to hybrid philoSOPHIA conferences.

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