A Philosophy of Disability Event

Yesterday afternoon, I made a presentation in an illuminating online event, “Troubling Access: Ableism and New Movements in Philosophy of Disability,” which was organized by Joshua St. Pierre, Canada Research Chair in Critical Disability Studies at the University of Alberta, and Kristin Rodier, along with her collaborators of the J-Series (social justice series) at Athabasca University. The Troubling Access event was intended to be a pre-publication book launch for The Bloomsbury Guide to Philosophy of Disability that I’ve edited and to which both Joshua and Kristin have contributed fabulous chapters. Johnathan Flowers and Corinne Lajoie, who likewise have contributed fantastic chapters to the book, also made presentations.

This Zoom event was interactive and took a novel form that Joshua, Kristin, and other members of their organizing team had developed with advice from a teaching support office at one of their institutions. After introductions and land acknowledgements, I, Johnathan, and Corinne gave our presentations, which were followed by discussion amongst the three of us; then, questions were directed to each one of us by either Joshua, Kristin, or Emily R. Douglas, the latter of whom has written a very insightful chapter on Fanon and disability for the book; finally, an open discussion ensued.

I presented an excerpt from my introduction to The Bloomsbury Guide to Philosophy of Disability, Johnathan presented an excerpt from his chapter in the collection, and Corinne’s presentation combined work from their chapter and their dissertation. I was delighted to know that I have played a role in the production of Johnathan’s and Corinne’s fascinating work and that it will soon be in the public domain. I am thrilled with the new directions in which Johnathan, Corinne, Emily, and the other contributors to the forthcoming collection are taking philosophy of disability.

Concerns about the inaccessibility of the presentations and subsequent discussion were raised in the Q and A section of the Zoom session. I wish that I had intervened to address these concerns, though, as an invited presenter, I was hesitant to do so. Nevertheless, I can do so here and now.

I think that issues of accessible language are incredibly fraught for disabled academics, and perhaps especially for disabled philosophers of disability. How to negotiate one’s positioning with respect to the discipline and tradition of philosophy, on the one side, and our political commitments to disabled people who are not philosophers, on the other side, is always a consideration for me as I write about disability and when I edit the work of other philosophers of disability. I pride myself on having developed a very clear and concise style with respect to both writing and editing. Yet issues of linguistic (in)accessibility remain a prominent concern and I don’t take them as resolved and uncontestable.

With respect to yesterday’s Zoom event, I think the concerns about inaccessible language may have been mitigated and may even have been avoided if the promotional material for the event had stated explicitly that, effectively, it would be a pre-publication launch for The Bloomsbury Guide to Philosophy of Disability. I understand and commend the eagerness with which Joshua and Kristin tried to reach a wide array of disabled people in the promotion of the event. I also recognize the effort required to organize a large event.

Had the promotional material framed the event as the pre-publication launch of the book, however, the use of specialized language and the priority given to issues central to the discipline and profession of philosophy would likely have been expected. The demographics of the attendees would likely have shifted too. If this shift had (unfortunately) transpired, I would hope that the disabled people who decided that the event was not of interest to them, would nevertheless have been inclined to read and engage with the book when it becomes available.

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