Accessibility for All?
Getting around in the physical world is something that many of us may take for granted. Curbs, thresholds, stairs, sidewalk gratings, obstructions, narrow passages – these are barriers that many of us walk over, around, or through everyday with little thought or effort as we go about our daily lives. Signs, signals, loudspeaker announcements, sirens – these are the sources that direct us or give us necessary information that allows us to navigate the sighted and hearing world with little or no thought. But what is it like to function in a world in which your ability to access the physical world is somehow inhibited by disability?
For this writing challenge you can choose from the following options. 1) To reflect on dis/ability through literature or 2) to reflect on dis/ability through experience. And then to write about it.
If you chose option 1, picking from one of these three short stories – Ambrose Bierce’s Chicamagua – Raymond Carver’s Cathedral – Flannery O’Connor’s Good Country People – explore how the story (or author via the story) considers disability in political, aesthetic, social, ethical, and cultural contexts. How does the story represent disabled and “normal” bodies within historical or cultural limits? How are characters with impairments constructed? Do these characters – as Sharon Snyder and David Mitchell contend – function as a “crutch upon which literary narratives lean for their representational power, disruptive potentiality, and analytical insight”? Do the impairments that constrain these characters carry significant symbolic, metonymic, synecdochal weight (as in Captain Ahab’s “peg leg” – which signals his obsession with the “white whale”)? Or do they serve as a wellspring for pity or emotion (as with Tiny Tim’s physical impairment)? Does the story develop a more complex perspective about ability or disability or perceptions about what is normal or abnormal? How does in/visibility of dis/ability complicate these narratives? How are characters with impairments portrayed (or they gendered in a particular way? Feminized? Infantilized? Is disability used thematically or strategically as a catalyst for the narrative? How are disabilities like blindness linked to “truth” or deafness to communication or physical impairment to innocence or guilt (or something else altogether)? How do images and descriptions of disability in the story confront or reinforce prejudice against people with disability?
If you chose option 2, you will chose to spend one full day navigating campus and coursework as a person living with a physical impairment that requires the use of a wheelchair, which will require some research. You’ll need to know what buildings on campus are accessible and what buildings are inaccessible as well as which buildings have accessible toilets (and on which floor – because that matters). You may also wish to look into the process someone must go through to receive care or services – like finding and obtaining the necessary permits for accessibility parking . You’ll want to look into the University’s Accessibility Services or the Equal Opportunity and Compliance office (and all the hurdles you’ll need to get through to get access to these services). You’ll definitely want to download, print, and use this accessibility map so you know where wheelchair access is located in certain buildings (it’s not always obvious, nor is usually very accessible – #irony). You could also go back to the beginning and think about how your application to the University might be affected by a disability. Consider how a disability might affect your ability to cheer on the Tarheels at the Dean Dome. You might benefit from the work of others by considering how Carolina compares to other NC Universities or internal assessments of Carolina’s accessibility. Once you’ve gathered enough information, you’ll be ready to navigate a day with disability at Carolina – though you’ll undoubtedly find that even with the best laid plans, you’ll discover unforeseen obstacles and challenges for access. Above all you’ll want to think about your time – and budget extra time (at least 15 minutes but maybe up to an hour) – to get to each of your destinations. Write about your experience as an autoethnography, by reflecting on your personal experience as it relates to wider cultural, political, and social meanings and (mis)understandings.