Ann Braithwaite: In today’s episode, which we’re calling Ableism in the Academy, it’s our great pleasure to have two students with us, Caitlin Salvino and Krysta Gillis, who you’ll hear introduce themselves at the beginning of the episode. And Dietmar Kennepohl and myself, Ann Braithwaite, who are two of the 2021 3M National Teaching Fellows. Today, we’re going to be exploring exactly what the title says, ableism in the academy, and what ableism means and the ways in which it unfolds in the Academy will be the stuff of our conversation for the next hour or so. I’m coming to you today from Mi’kma’ki, the unseeded and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people, also known as PEI. I am joined by three people today who are also in different parts of the place we now called Canada and Dietmar who’s actually in Germany.
Ann: I am Ann Braithwaite, I’m Professor of Diversity and Social Justice Studies at UPEI
Dietmar Kennepohl: I’m Dietmar Kennepohl. I’m a professor of Chemistry at Athabasca University, Canada’s Open University. Breaking down barriers to university education.
Caitlin Salvino: My name is Caitlin Salvino. I use she/her pronouns. And I’m currently a law student at the University of Toronto.
Krysta Gillis: My name is Krysta and I’m in my final year at the University of Prince Edward Island, double majoring in Diversity and Social Justice and Anthropology and I also use she/her pronouns.
Ann: So, thank you, everyone for joining us. So, today’s episode, as we’ve already said, is ableism in the academy, and we got interested in this. Dietmar and I have been talking since you know, the 3M cohort does like a retreat and, and so the subject came up. And two things about this struck us, right one is that the idea of ableism, or disability in the long sort of line of social justice kind of interests often gets left off in terms of a real investigation of it. So that really intrigued us, but also two years into COVID, right, or two plus years into COVID, we’ve all learned an enormous amount about accessibility rights, accessibility very broadly defined. And in the rush back to “normal,” I’m doing air quotes around normal in the rush back to normal, it strikes all of us that we’re retreating from much of what we’ve learned. So, we wanted to have a conversation with a couple of students at different levels of or different moments in their academic careers, to have a conversation about what ableism looks like what the retreat back to “normal,” again, air quotes, what that looks like, and just anything else that they want to bring to our attention to have us all kind of open up a longer discussion about ableism in the academy. So, I’m just going to open it up to Caitlin and, Krysta, if you have anything that any place you want to start, please.
Caitlin: I can jump in, I guess just to start, I have an example from my own institution that I think kind of really reflects what you were bringing up about how COVID has presented opportunity for post secondary institutions to become more accessible to adopt principles of universal design, and then how now that the pandemic is “over” using air quotes, obviously, there is this retreat and you know, the these gains that we had for disabled students are starting to disappear. And so, at the University of Toronto, specifically at the University of Toronto, Law faculty, the faculty of Law has decided that that the teaching of law and they use the term the pedagogy of law is in person. And so, their view is that to be able to be a law student, you have to be able to attend every single class, no matter what, and if you do not attend a class, then that is your own, you know, you have to deal with the academic consequences. And in COVID, that obviously didn’t work. You know, there was an infectious disease going around are infectious virus. And we couldn’t be pressuring students to be attending their classes, while sick to avoid academic consequences. And so, the school faculty of Law specifically shifted to create zoom links for every single class. And so, there were zoom links for all the courses. And so, all you had to do is if you felt like you would COVID symptoms, you could fill out online form, answer a few questions, didn’t need to submit a COVID test nothing. And then they would send you an access to a zoom link. And so, I started this year and for the whole year, this has been the process. The challenge is that the school or the faculty of Law specifically has not extended this accommodation or this, you know, accessibility feature to disabled students. And so, I live with a disability where I have the potential to have a flare in my disease. And so, I have all the documentation from all my specialists that affirmed that if I have a flare, I will not be able to attend class. It’s very serious. And so, when I registered this with accessibility services, which was run by the University of Toronto, not by the law school, you know, this was all approved all my documents He was recognised, but then I was told oh, but the Faculty of Law does not offer accommodations for this, the teaching of law is in person. And if you cannot attend the class, you have to try to get notes yourself. And this is while they were offering zoom links to other students who filled out a COVID form. And so, it became this kind of situation where they are creating accommodations for non-disabled students. And it really seems like the view was that this was never offered to disabled students in the first place. So why are we been extended, as I guess, like an update in, you know, March. Well, after a lot of pressure, the faculty of law changes their policy. And now they are offering recordings of classes to disabled students. But once again, they’ve created a hierarchy of disability, and they’re still affirming that you have to be in class. And so, the only disabled students that can get recordings of the classes are disabled students who have disabilities, such as like a learning disability, or a mobility disability where they can’t write notes, and they need the recording to supplement their notes later. And so still, for disabled students like myself, I cannot get access to the recordings, even though they have them in a database. And I have all the documentation and UT Central has, has recognised and so this is kind of this ongoing challenge that we have at the University of Toronto that I really think shows how the pedagogy of Law, the pedagogy of academia is reinforcing a lot of barriers for disabled students in know, undermining our ability to succeed.
Ann: So I’m appalled, right? There’s a number of really, for me, aside from the absolute horror of that, a couple of really interesting ideas, right, that seemed to be sort of the background in forming of this way of doing things. One, of course, is the idea that in person must be better than teaching in any other way. And as Dietmar pointed out, before, you know, he’s been teaching at a place like Athabasca for years, I mean, in person is not necessarily better. And I say all the time, there’s crappy in person, and there’s crappy online, I mean, it’s not a format where you are, it’s the format of the structure of a class, etc.
Dietmar: I agree with you. I mean, I’ve been facing this for a long time that the automatic assumption because we, I think it’s just a natural thing to put a high value on human contact. But that doesn’t always necessarily translate into good communication, or the other way around. And one of the disappointing things that has happened, and there have been a lot of disappointing things during COVID is that people have been now exposed to almost having to do things in a different way. And there are people who’ve done very creative and interesting things, and teaching and learning and accommodating people and making things work. There are others that are just ready to just to kind of go back to face to face and forget about everything else. And I you know, inside, I’m always hoping, like, I’m not thinking that everything should be just 100% online, but I’m really hoping that will, people will hang on to a few things that have worked for people and have worked for their students and realise that so, yeah, to see that, you know, everything’s being abandoned again afterwards. And going back to as Ann did her air quotes around normal. I was kind of hoping we’d kind of move past that and learn from the two years that we’ve had trying to do online new things, alternative ways.
Krysta: I think what you were talking about, there is one of the things that is the most disappointing to me as, as a disabled student, like I know that my experiences aren’t universal. And there are a lot of disabled students who did find online classes, and engagement in their studies and interactions with students and faculty very difficult during COVID. I found it a lot easier for me personally, I excelled in online classes. And for the first time in my life, I was able to engage with people in my studies in a way that fit me personally, I have a couple of rare conditions and chronic pain. And it has always just kind of been expected of me to attend classes when I’m not feeling well. And I mean, I have invisible disabilities and so I never look like I’m in pain or not engaging properly. And like it’s always been that expectation of you know, excellence and high functioning disability. Those ideas and it’s always been difficult, but I never really thought about another way moving forward until COVID hit and suddenly I was able to be in in my room around all the materials that like make my life easier, make people to focus, lower my pain, I was able to engage. If I wasn’t feeling well I could mute myself on a zoom call and still pay attention and still, you know unmute myself when I felt better. And it was so freeing. I had never experienced that kind of engagement before. And for the first time, I felt like there was something that was specifically made with me in mind. And so having gone back to the idea of in person classes now, it’s been a lot of kind of gritting my teeth and bearing it when faculty and students just tell me, I’m so glad we’re going back to normal. Finally, we can put all this behind us, and I’m just thinking you are normal never fit me. Like, what you’re saying is, I’m glad that you’re not going to be included anymore. Like I get that that’s not the forefront, they’re at the forefront on their minds. But that is the way it comes across. And I’m like, is there not a way to merge both ideas? Is there not a way to, you know, focus on universal design?
Ann: One of the things that that these last few comments really made make me think about which I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years, and I’m one of those people who would never talk remotely right I love an in person classroom. Yeah, I love everything about the in person classroom and the summer of 2020. When we were thinking about, you know, we’re going back remote for you know, pretty well all of 2021. And I just like many people I know hit panic and fear, right? Like, how am I-… I didn’t know Dietmar at the time. That might have helped. But I was like, I don’t know how I’m going to do this, I’m going to fail miserably. The thing that I’m really good at and quite comfortable at the in person classroom, I cannot do I have discovered so many sort of, of joys really, right, the virus is a teacher and I have learned so much about and maybe relearn so much about teaching, or have concretize for myself so much about teaching by being forced initially and now embracing remote teaching, and I have no desire to go back to 100% in person teaching for the reasons that both Caitlin and Krysta have been pointing out. And what COVID did for me, I think for many of us is it exposed the myth that everybody in the classroom is the same, right? It really made visible the diversity of people in the classroom. And a conference I went to a few weeks ago, there was an amazing panel on disability and one of the participants said, you know, as you all go back to normal, I become more and more isolated again. And I thought, you know, students come to universities for post-secondary of any kind, for any number of reasons. And the norms that gets sort of taken for granted about teaching and learning only ever made place for a few of those reasons. But folks are there for a variety of reasons. And as a faculty member, I’m like, isn’t it our responsibility to think about the diversity of people that we’re teaching and learning that we’re teaching learning we’re teaching and learning from and to make our classrooms as accessible as possible, we already do some accessibility, why can’t we, to go back to something Dietmar said before, why can’t we continue to expand all of our collective understanding of what accessibility means? but I’m also so aware that this is not just individual decisions that I work at a university that I’m going to have to buy my own camera, my own microphone to put up a portable to bring to all my classrooms, because that technology doesn’t exist. And there seems to be very little interest in investing in it. And so, in all sorts of ways, and maybe we can start shifting the conversation in this direction, what was the sort of structures and practices of the university that work against the sort of expanding of accessibility? And this takes us back to Caitlin sort of first story too, right? about, here’s this university that could be doing all sorts of things, it was just flat out, no, we’re not doing it, our policies don’t extend to this.
Caitlin: Yeah. And I think I think that there’s a need to recognise also that like different post-secondary institutions have different capacity, like in terms of like funding and stuff. So, I used to do a lot of work in sexual violence, and, you know, some of the really big schools, like they could fund full sexual violence support centres, and then we have, you know, more rural or rural campuses that couldn’t offer those services. And so, I’m not going to recommend like, oh, you need all of these things without thinking about the local context, I think, on a more fundamental level, at least in my experience with faculty of Law is that there’s kind of two really problematic assumptions that kind of underpin why there isn’t kind of more support for disabled students and wanting to make it accessible. And I think one of them is that there’s this idea of productivity, and like, so often, there’s a link between disability and a lack of productivity. And it’s viewed as you know, if you’re disabled, you can’t be a university student, you can’t be a professional, you can’t do all these things. So why would we, you know, provide these accommodations or, you know, in my, you know, in my school, like, it’s that lawyers have to work 80 hours a week, you have to be available at all times, you have to serve your clients. And if you ever can’t go to class or can’t, you know, attend a meeting, you’re not a good lawyer, and you shouldn’t even be in the profession. And that’s kind of the message I feel like it’s being sent to disabled students when we don’t provide those accommodations. And I guess the second underpinning view is that there’s a choice in disability and there’s a choice not to attend class or not to go in person or not be able to participate. And so, in my experience with the Faculty of Law is that, oh, if you can’t attend class, you’re choosing to attend, to not attend, and you have to live with the academic consequences. Without understanding that, you know, in my circumstance, if I can’t attend classes, because my, I will have to go to the hospital, and like, my life will be at risk. And so then put that on, like, this is a choice that I have, and they’re not going to provide these accommodations to me because, you know, “good lawyers go to class” is like, so deeply problematic. And I think that it’s based on a really old-school view of what disability is, and maybe they have user specific disabilities that they have in mind, as opposed to respecting the advice of, you know, health professionals or disabled people themselves.
Dietmar: I find it interesting that a lot of this I see also as as kind of locked into a certain way of thinking about teaching and learning that there are a lot of assumptions. And sometimes you can actually see this by profession as well like medical profession. They get their students to do a residency where they have to stay up for 36 hours straight and prescribing narcotics, and why are they doing this? And I think a lot of disciplines kind of carry around this baggage under the heading of you know, “we we’ve always done it this way.” And so, I think some of the problem is there as well, that they kind of see themselves as doing the right thing. And this is the way to do it. But I don’t you know, as an outsider don’t always see the connection to the learning piece. Like, why are you doing this other than we’ve always done it this way. So, I don’t know if Caitlin and Krista if you’ve excelled experienced that sort of thing? And, you know, other courses and other disciplines as well?
Krysta: Yeah, yeah, I have. I’m lucky enough that the classes that I take I found professors and disciplines that for the most part are very accepting and welcoming. But I’ve taken a couple of courses, there were a few in the kinesiology department in UPEI, that very much focused on excellence-based ideas of what it means to go on to be what the consistently called it, or they consistently call it a professional setting. For a long time, I thought that I wanted to actually go into medical residency and be a doctor and I considered being a lawyer as well. But a lot of those ideas, whenever I took it to people in the past, people in the university tended to try to dissuade me from doing that, because they said, “I wouldn’t be able to, because I didn’t have what it takes.” And like my, for context, my marks are among the top, but I only take three or four courses per semester. And so even if we’re going from the basic undergraduate level, standards of excellence, are weighed upon the idea that the normal person is able to take 10 courses. And there are a lot of master’s degree programmes or PhD programmes that refuse to accept students who have not taken 10 courses per semester, for the last two years, any like I was in the psychology department for quite some time and briefly considered going and going on to get my “Psy D” my PhD. But I was spoken to from our by at least two professors in the psychology department, and one person from like students services, and they all told me, “you need to have been able to take 20 classes in your past two years, or you won’t be accepted.” And it was, they told me to “go find programmes that are easier on you.” And it wasn’t it wasn’t the wasn’t exactly what you want to hear when you’re trying to think about what you want to do going forward. And a lot of those programmes that we were talking about that Caitlin and Dietmar, both mentioned, law and medicine really reinforced that idea of academic excellence and personal excellence, excellence and productivity and moving forward and being quote, the best. And the message that they’re constantly pinning disabled students with “is you will never be the best. The best is unattainable for people like you.”
Caitlin: Yeah, and I agree with that. And I think that the idea that oh, we’ve never offered this before, is evidence to show why there are so few disabled people in our professions in academia, who are needed. And so, when I go to a law school, and there’s no professor that is openly disabled, no mentor who lives with a disability, that’s a problem, you know, the legal profession, you know, I don’t want to just talk about that. But that’s my field of academia. The legal profession is primarily like the oppression of the law is primarily experienced by disabled people who live with various forms of marginalisation such as you know, a black disabled person or an indigenous disabled person. But the reality is, is that the vast majority of people in Canada’s criminal justice system live with a form of disability. And when you look at human rights complaints, whether it’s in the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal or others across Canada, there’s 15, or 17, different grounds of discrimination that you can claim and 60% of the claims are on disability. And so, we have an over representation of disabled people experiencing the legal system, and a vast under representation in the actual profession. And I think that really matters. And we need to ask why. And, you know, my law school and so many other law schools and law firms now have all these statements on diversity, but they always leave out disability. And I truly do feel like this is linked to this view of productivity. That is like a false assumption. I don’t want to talk too much about my background. But I’ve done a bachelor’s in law, I’ve done a master’s and I’m defending my PhD in law this summer, I have an immense amount of experience. And I’ve done extremely well, professional field, but they still will not give me the accommodations for me to be able to continue to do well and excel and hopefully shape the field to be better for marginalised groups.
Ann: I mean, one of the things I’m, well, a lot of things I’m noticing, but we know that one out of five Canadians lives with a disability of some kind. And so the idea that what you just sort of describe to us the invisibility, right, that of that, even as a kind of known stat says a lot about how able bodied, able minded folks think about disability to begin with, if they even think about it, and that’s probably a reason why they think it’s so much such as much smaller group of people, man, somebody said to me, the other day disabilities a club, we could all join tomorrow, if we’re not sort of in there already. And you know, that’s playing with this notion that there’s a real distinction between disability and able bodied, which I certainly don’t want to suggest at all. I’m thinking also about, you know, what both you and Dietmar, were talking about what seemed like hazing rituals more than anything else. But these normative assumptions about learning really also reveal to us who is the university for and whether we’re talking about law school or med school, or you know, undergraduate programs. Universities historically have been built for a very particular group of people. And now as more groups of people are showing up, there’s this kind of both resistance in recalcitrance to do anything to change those normative structures, you just either you fit in or you make the “choice” back to your language Caitlin, you make the “choice” not to fit in as if it is about individual choice at all. And that’s true. I mean, even taking it outside of disability. That’s true for you know, students who have kids and but there’s all sorts of reasons why opening up the teaching and learning to a much more kind of accessible format includes many more people who were never the basis of what the university thought they were for, to begin with. And so, it’s not that much wonder, in some cases, that they’re just kind of refusing to change and not recognising that some changes will include way more people than they may initially be thinking they’re making the changes for but I’m also really intrigued by the, the language of can’t, right. But I’m really intrigued by the ways in which the language of excellence the language of productivity, both Krysta and Caitlin, you’ve both been using that language, and maybe even the language of accommodations. Because accommodations, when I hear that, I always think is that the way that universities think about that language is so often and so many people in universities think about that language is that it’s what can we do for you, the individual? And then we say we the University says, yes, we’ll do it or no, we won’t forgetting that there are legal reasons why they have to, but always individualised. And are there other ways for us to think about this idea of “accessibility and accommodations?” again, quotation marks around that scare quotes around that.
Caitlin: I find in my life, there are so many administrative processes, I have to go through forms that I have to get filled out, I have really expensive medication. So, I have to do all those claims and all those processes. And so, to have to do more processes to get accommodations at school, I really think should be reduced for disabled people. There’s already such an administrative burden on us. And so, the idea to shift towards universal design, I think, is a way to create more accessible communities just generally have the general public better understand disability, but also reduce like already overburdened disabled people. And so, one example from this past year as part of a lot of the work that disabled students at the University of Toronto Law school have done has been raising attention over the fact that students with disabilities are not being accommodated. They’re not, you know, having these options. And so, then there’s been this shift where professors are now starting to because we were all on Zoom for most of the second semester, they were recording the Zoom classes themselves, and then we’re sending out recordings to everyone. And so, they accessiblized, their own class and so they didn’t have to deal with the problematic accommodations processes of school refusing to accommodate people where they were just deciding You know, at this is what we’re going to offer. And I think something, you know, we’re when we start to think of accommodations like that that like this view that I think there’s a view that disabled students with accommodations are getting like ahead or getting a one up on the students. And then the best solution to that is just offered to everyone, you know, why can’t we offer recordings so students can review what they learned in class to then do better on the exam. I think it’s really about thinking more broadly, that I think will benefit everyone, and then also disabled students more specifically.
Dietmar: That’s an awesome point. I mean, and we had discussed that before. And we had talked about, you know, how quickly you have to go through a programme, we’re talking about assessments like, you know, if you have an open ended exam, no timeline to it, just give it to everybody. And to kind of examine that there might be good reasons not to do that. But I don’t think very many people ask themselves that question in the first place. So excellent point.
Ann: And I think the point also, that so many people think about equity as special rights, right, some group of people is getting something that I’m not getting, and they’re getting, you know, it’s a benefit or so I think that goes back to that whole notion of excellence also, right? Well, clearly, if you’re giving people more time, and if you’re giving them recordings, they can’t be as excellent as you know, the normative student who does schooling in the way that the university was initially set up for very particular kinds of people who move through the world in very particular ways. So, we really have to challenge that that special rights language to write that some people are getting something that others don’t. And I really liked the both comments just made that why not? If you’re changing one thing about your course, for a particular group of people, why not for everybody? Like what do you maybe rethink your assessments, rethink your assignments, rethink your group work, rethink all the things that you’re doing, so that everybody can get something from doing it. Otherwise, you’re playing this game of, well, this group of students will do it this way. And this other group of students, you know, you will have to do it this way. And there’s always a hierarchy sort of assumed between those.
Krysta: something that I wanted to cut in with when you were talking about that I worked for my university’s accessibility services actually, and I had for the past three years. And I think something that often goes overlooked with the idea of the accommodation model is that the onus is always placed on people from a different department, it’s rarely the duty of the professor to accommodate the class and or, you know, the individual students. And I mean, we can talk all we want about how accessibility services, at least Canada-wide are primarily staffed by underpaid women who continued to be shoved into the idea of care work, but also the accommodation model. And the idea of that special treatment or getting ahead, it assumes that accommodations are something that are easy to get for every disabled student. And that’s not the case, I can only speak for PEI, but I know that on PEI, we have a vast shortage of medical doctors. And so finding a general practitioner, much less a specialist, especially if you have a disability that isn’t more common. It’s almost impossible. Like I, I’m 32, and I only got an official diagnosis last year after having struggled for my entire academic career up until that point, and mean, even with the recent diagnosis that I’ve got, my main disability doesn’t fit the, I’m going to say the normative ideas of disability that my university accommodates, and like having worked there, like I love where I work, I love what we do. But there are set accommodations for set diagnoses. And first of all, you have to have a diagnosis in order to access accommodations. And so, if you’re an international student who has no access to a family doctor, if you don’t have access to specialists that are required, and keep in mind too, like seeing a specialist, especially in Atlantic Canada can take you upwards of five years. So, you would already be through university. By the time you even begin to get into the process of finding that diagnosis. And that’s assuming that people listen to you, which is extremely rare for a number of kinds of people marginalised, specifically, especially considering women and people of colour tend to be seen as lying about their diagnoses or the medical ideas of diagnoses aren’t specifically aligned for them. They’re based on white students or male students. And so a lot of students tend to fall through the cracks, but going back to like accommodation in general, like I have my diagnosis, they are aware that I have my diagnosis, they’re doing what they can to help me but a lot of the stuff that I would require to like be fully comfortable in an in person classroom and be able to engage the same way that I do at home. It’s not possible like their idea of accommodation can be you know, ergonomics or extra time, recording devices access to lectures, but at the same time, like I’m still jam packed in a classroom full of between 35 to 100 people the air quality isn’t great. There’s no access to electrical outlets chairs are standardised and like individual ideas of ergonomics are never taken into consideration because there’s no funding, there’s no access. Because again, the idea of university accommodation is pushed on to a department that is typically underfunded. My accessibility services is in the basement of a building, and our elevator stops working constantly. And we have a number of students with accessibility and mobility needs that cannot get down the stairs. And I have no idea what my university, well actually know exactly what the university was thinking. But it’s the idea of shoving accommodations and disability into the corner for other people to deal with either disabled people, or the typically women who have been made to be kind of the harbingers of accommodations. And if a student is not being “properly” air quotes, accommodated, it’s their fault, not the fault of the professor, not the fault of the university. It’s specifically these people in the corner.
Caitlin: Yeah, just to add to that, I do, I do agree that there also there’s like an unrecognised understanding of the challenges that are inherent in accessing a diagnosis and the medical system. And so, I’m lucky in a way in terms of access to medical care, that I live in Ontario. So, you know, we have more access to specialists and more access to family doctors, but even then, it’s immensely long wait lists. And so similarly, I live with a rare disease, it took five years of fighting very hard with the medical system to get diagnosed. And I have a really great team of specialists, but the amount of forms that are there that that institutions expect these people to fill out is just unbelievable. And so, you know, for me what happened this year at the University of Toronto, I have all my documentation from my specialist, and before attending the University of Toronto, I was in the UK at the University of Oxford that the University of Toronto likes to look up to as this prestigious model that they try to follow. And the University of Oxford had no problem accepting letters from my specialists, and they were fine with it. And that was okay. But then when I tried to register with the University of Toronto, they had this like, 10 Page disability certificate that they wanted my specialist to fill out. And like, my specialist has no time it was in the middle of COVID. He’s an immunologist. So, he was absolutely overwhelmed. And the disability certificate was designed for pretty much only learning disabilities and mental health conditions. You know, when they listed like, there was boxes for the specialist to check off what kind of specialists they don’t even listen immunologist, they didn’t listen to other specialists that I worked with. And so, I just refused to do it, because I knew that my immunologist, and my doctors were overwhelmed. And I said that I’m, these are my documents, this is all that I need, you know, and for me, I was it was eventually accepted, because I refused. And also, you know, I don’t I don’t have a lot of academic accommodations. It’s mostly just around players. And so I think this idea that these things that are just so easy to get are not and it’s constantly different forms all the time, with specialists that are overwhelmed with individuals who are overwhelmed or disabled, and then even then the accommodations of the forms to fill out aren’t, are not designed for, you know, I can talk about rare diseases, you know, and they don’t offer the accommodations that are needed. I’d also just say that, like, another reason why I refuse to fill out the forms is because there were like questions about like, how have you struggled in school, and stuff like that are like questions about like, how have you performed academically and I’m like, Okay, I don’t have problems academically, I just every once in a while, have flares where I cannot attend class, and I want to be accommodated. And I really didn’t appreciate a lot of these, you know, for accessibility services centre that is trained to understand these things, putting in these underlying assumption that disabilities is linked to productivity, disabilities is linked to being the worst student or performing less well academically.
Ann: What’s so I think, important in well, lots of things, right? But this notion that disability is “deficit” all the time, and that that somehow then becomes “largesse” on the part of institutions like you know, universities, etc., to accommodate if this was in person, you’d see me doing air quotes around all of these words that I’m emphasising, but it really sort of keeps in place, the notion that there’s a standard normative able bodied able mindedness and that, you know, out of that we the able bodied can either, you know, accommodate the deficit that disability represents, or we cannot. So historically we didn’t now, you know, we’re so we supposedly do, but as you’ve, you know, the last couple of people speaking have pointed out I mean, that’s that hasn’t been the case necessarily, right? And the thing about forms that fascinates me, I mean, so first of all, I mean, how often you have to fill out the same damn forms to say the same thing, right? It’s like this, this, this thing I have is not going away in six months. Why do I have to do a form again in six months over and over again, but then from the faculty position, the beginning of every semester, and this is not about accessibility services that is under resourced and has fabulous people working at it at UPEI. I insist on that and are very well aware of the restrictions that they work under righ? the institutional restrictions. But so, there’s this automated system that every the beginning of every semester, I just get a whole bunch of automated emails about all the students in my class who are registered with accessibility services and the accommodations, quote, unquote, always individualised that they need most of them, I just filed those away. Most of those have to do with something around exam taking, and I don’t give exams. And so it seems to me from like my, my position as faculty, when I think about my colleagues, there are a number of ways of thinking about shifting our conversation to how do we change things that there’s a couple of sort of responses, one can be I file them away, and I never think about it again and on we go and, you know, sink or swim kind of thing. Or the other is to be really sort of overt and say, What do you need any of you in the class because, you know, if there’s a day, you can’t make it for something because you have a sick two year old, that is a thing that also needs to be responded to, as much as you have a flare up, or the dang chairs in the room are hopeless, or the fluorescent lights are causing migraines. Or I’ll give you an example of a few years ago, I taught a course called Disability Studies, that was probably in one of the most inaccessible horrid rooms at UPEI, tiny little windows, the temperature could not regulate in that room at all. So sometimes it was too hot. And sometimes it was too cold, tiered seating. And way too much furniture in that room. Like there’s the front of the room had like three tables and too many things going on. And it was fascinating because the students kept saying like, should we even be doing this class? Is disability studies as a course? Only about let’s read some articles about disability? Or is it also how do we practice disability justice in this room, which was impossible in that room? Because that room was just hopeless? That took me far away from the idea of forms and accommodations, but it does get me thinking about as faculty, what is our responsibility? Whether we identify as disabled or not, what is our responsibility in our teaching and learning together as a community to think about how accessible is my classroom? Not just physically accessible? Because I want certainly wasn’t, but how accessible it is it in any number of ways, who was invited into this room simply through the structures and practices that I lay out, as opposed to who has to knock on the door and say, excuse me, and I have this accommodation I need? And then I scramble for this one student or for 17 students to individually accommodate? Couldn’t we flip that? Couldn’t we think about how do I set this up so differently, that I don’t have a lot of students knocking at the door, because the way in which the class operates in an institution that is, you know, difficult, the way in which the class operates already makes room for any number of people, because it tries to shift the bar on who the class is for to begin with. And I know that’s something that Dietmar thinks about a lot, because you know, you’re teaching remotely all the time. So, you really have to think about, I’m putting words in your mouth now. Right? But I’m assuming you have to think all the time about how do I make this as accessible as possible for the great variety of students who go to an online environment precisely because it might for all sorts of reasons, not just precisely, because for all sorts of reasons.
Dietmar: Yeah, I’ll just respond to that last bit. I mean, it’s, it’s quite ironic, because for me, it’s the other way around, like, you know, because we’re online and at a distance, it solves a lot of problems that you might not have, you know, that are in the physical world. But then again, it also, like I said, creates other problems that we you know, there is still invisibility there. And that’s why that whole Universal Design for Learning is very important for online, that you can have that access. But what I wanted to do is kind of underscore and what you had said about our colleagues, faculty out there taking on more responsibility. And I would argue also just from a teaching and learning perspective, that this is a good thing. But I’m also thinking of, you know, our previous discussion when we were talking about even within, you know, accessibility services, people who’ve already been trained for that there is still a little bit of invisibility, I think that they are looking after kind of like the standard regular things. And still there are scoped subgroups within that, that are still kind of being overlooked are having to do things that they shouldn’t. And I know someone I can’t remember who was saying, well, they’re just overworked and that and I’m so they kind of had me thinking well as faculty, if we were to take on more responsibility and make our classrooms, our learning environments, more accommodating for everybody, and take on some of the you know, the kind of day to day stuff that, you know, accessibility services wouldn’t have to deal with that. He could focus on you know, the more specialty things, that would be a good thing. And, you know, I would encourage faculty to do that. And not to kind of think of this accessibility ability services as well, accommodations and how my classroom operates rests over there is to kind of step forward and take on some of this a little bit more. So, yeah, I’ll get off my soapbox, and we can continue on with the conversation.
Caitlin: I agree with that completely. And I think that there is kind of, like I’ve heard, at least in my experience, like there’s been people throwing around like,” oh, like, faculty don’t actually have to implement accommodations,” or “Oh, like, we can’t force faculty to implement accommodations with academic freedom,” stuff like that, whatever. But in my view, every faculty that I’ve ever spoken to is extremely supportive of this. And there’s just this assumption, though, that accessibility services is fully accommodating everyone, you know, at least at the law school, there was an assumption, they were being told that disabled students were being accommodated. So, when I would tell professors like, oh, no, I’ve been rejected, like the law school will not allow me to access this, they were shocked. And that’s when we started to see faculty starting to send out, you know, their own zoom links are starting to send out their own recordings. And we have, you know, a large percentage of our faculty doing this, because I think faculty want to support students, but there’s almost like a lack of understanding of maybe over faith and accessibility services on each campus. And also, probably a lack of understanding of the systemic barriers that students face to get there, you know, to even get a diagnosis or even to get registered or something like that.
Ann: I love that focus on systemic, right, because we talk about something like I don’t know, anti-racism, right. And people think about it as systemic. And so much of the efforts successfully or not, but so many of the efforts are trying to get us all to think what are what are some of the systemic ways in which something like anti-black racism permeates our universities, but when it comes to disability, we use the language of accommodations and individual accommodations, we don’t start talking about anti-ableism. So, I mean, as our movement is anti-ableism, that move to getting us all to not just, you know, what can we do in our own individual classes, but as a community, as a university, and obviously outside the university, but as the university? How are we going to challenge normative structures of the university to make it a more accessible place for any number of people, rather than think about? Okay, we have, you know, 20% of the student populations registered with accessibility services, they need more time on exams, where we want to put them for all of these exams, which is the so how can we sort of force our administrations to think about, and maybe our, you know, our colleagues too right, but to think about, what are the sorts of ways in which this university is set up, that we could change often fairly easily and make space for more people? I’ll give you a quick example. So, a number of years ago, somebody on campus, so we didn’t have enough accessible parking on campus, right? Or they decided they being the administration said, we have enough accessible parking. But clearly we didn’t, because there were students driving around not being able to find accessible parking, parking, you know, way back in the ‘back forty’, as we call it, right? Sort of a far away parking lot and wondering how they were going to walk to their class. And so, the administration’s initial response to this was phone security, security will come and get you and drive you to your class, which is such a I mean, you just think about all the stuff that’s been sort of perpetuated, and that sort of suppose it solution. So, we told them right away, that wasn’t a solution. Anyways, the whole thing kind of grew from there, they added two more spaces for parking. And I guess that’s that. And then of course, that student graduated and moved on. And now the university thinks that it’s done fine. So, there have to be other ways besides this kind of, well, we’ll come and drive you and we’ll take you where you need to go and these very individualised, quote unquote, solutions. And then we really need to as a whole, the entire institution, think I mean, I’m talking parking, I’m not even talking about what’s going on in the classroom, right? We really need to think about what are the many, many ways in which able-minded able-bodiness permeates everything we do in this institution? And how are we going to change those?
Krysta: I think one of the problems or one of the many problems is tackling the idea of ableism in the academy, because one thing that I have encountered in UPEI is that people assume that because Accessibility Services exists, that ableism doesn’t exist on campus. There’s this weird binary thinking that because ‘x’ then ‘y’ must exist. It’s very perplexing. But I think one of the things that really needs to change as we were talking earlier about the idea of disability as deficit, and how that continuously comes up in a lot of academic programmes and institutions, we haven’t talked about language yet. But personally, language is one of my, my go tos when it comes to talking about disability. And of course, like I would never assume to put words in anybody else’s mouth that these are my, this is how I feel about things. But to me, at least the professors and the people in the administration that have been the ones that push back the most have been the ones that primarily engaged with disability through that accommodation model or that medicalized model, the idea that disability is individualised and that it’s located in the individual person’s body and not in their classrooms or the structure of the university. So, they turn away from the systemic idea of what is making this difficult for students, a lot of them I know, there’s a lot in university, about person first versus identity first language. And a lot of these people that I’ve talked to primarily use person first language, and that’s completely fine. If like, I want to stress if anybody who’s listening to this is disabled, and you do use person first language, by all means, please do like it. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t person first language. thing for anybody who isn’t aware is the idea that you talk about the person first and then the disability afterwards. So you say person with disabilities or people with disabilities, identity first language is what I use and what a lot of people hear us and we say disabled people who put the disability first acknowledging that you can’t, often if at all, separate the idea of disability from the people and that doing so is inherently a problematic idea. Because by trying to make that divide, but by trying to create that binary, you’re inherently separating the idea from disability for of disability from personhood. So, a lot of people who use identity first language, they’re very focused on stressing there is nothing wrong with disability, it’s like disability is not a bad way to be, it is a different way to be person first language centres around the same mentality as the idea of being colorblind. You know, I don’t see colour, I don’t see disability that comes from a good place. But it also comes from a place that doesn’t acknowledge the systemic difficulties that people who have disabilities face constantly.
Caitlin: I think, I don’t think as much about language, as Krysta does. I really appreciated everything that she was saying, Yeah, I think that in my lifetime… I act like I’m old. I’m not, I’m like in my 20s… but, I feel like I’ve, I’ve seen a shift in the past few years and how we talked about disability. And so, when I was doing my undergrad, which was in the human rights, I was taught person first language, like you have to use person, first person with living with a disability. And a lot of that kind of came out of, I guess, like an international movement for person first disabilities, especially when they were, you know, advocating for the convention on the rights of people living with disabilities at the international level, have recently, I feel like there has been a really big shift in terms of like, people might use the term terms disabled. And I think for me, it took a while to get to that place. And it was about kind of like unlearning a lot. And I kind of like shift between still. So, I use both like disabled people and persons who have disabilities. For myself, I am comfortable with other people, like disabled people, referring to me as disabled, I’m comfortable with my friends referring to me as disabled. But if someone I didn’t know, tried to talk about me living with disability, I would prefer for them to use person first language just because I don’t think that they understand my life and the way that disability impacts it and the sound barriers that I face, but that’s like, very personal to me. And it’s not really impacted by I think a lot of the things that Krysta was raising that, you know, I agree with, and I’ll probably think about a lot. It’ll change how I approach things.
Ann: That was great. I love that. And I’m thinking about all the ways in which language perpetuates. I mean, language changes all the time. But all the ways in which sort of everyday use of language perpetuate certain notions of disability, especially disabilities as deficit in some way, right. So, and I know that I shared this in print on email with all of you before, we used to have a chancellor here, who told a story about a little boy confined to his wheelchair. And I mean, that’s language we hear all the time, but it perpetuates this notion that disability is deficit. And that really, you know, if you didn’t have to be in a wheelchair, you wouldn’t be and that’s not true for everybody. So, the and I think that goes back to what Christy was just saying about, you know, you are right, you don’t want to separate the person from the disability sometimes, maybe all the time I identify as a woman, I don’t want to separate woman from me, to me, it just it’s, it’s who I am. So just to make a corollary not to say that they the exact same kind of example, but to make a sort of corollary analogy going on here. So, I’m interested in what happens when this kind of language gets you know, there’s a class discussion You’re going on and people are mobilising language that is perpetuating notions of disability that that may be problematic. How do we address that? Do we address it? Whose responsibility is it to address it in the same way that people making all kinds of, I don’t know generalisations about other identity groups, somebody in class would probably call them on it. Does the same thing happened around disability, I wonder, I see. We’re on Zoom and Krysta is shaking her head no…
Caitlin: No, I can talk to my own experiences in a law school. But I am very open about being disabled. And one of the reasons that I am is because I do feel like I have an immense amount of privilege, in terms of my background, it’s very hard for people to look at the work that I’ve been involved in, and then be like, oh, this person isn’t productive, or this person, you know, doesn’t do well academically. And so in some ways, I view it as, like, it’s part of, like, my personal responsibility to be open about my disability, because I think there’s a lot of people that don’t have the same privilege, you know, not just like, in professional or class, but there’s so many other forms of like, you know, privilege based on race, gender identity, sexual orientation, stuff like that. And, you know, what I realised in the law school is that, you know, I was part of the Disabled Law Students Association, and we were like, very vocal, very active about, you know, what’s been going on. And then we were getting private messages from students asking us to help them with accommodation issues and stuff like that, and being like them, begging us, “please do not tell anyone that I’m disabled, like, I really am worried that I’m going to be discriminated against not just at the law school, but you know, what I apply for jobs and stuff.” And so that in class, when we have class discussions, I’m have no doubt that there are students that are disabled, or who are very concerned that they don’t want to speak up because of, you know, a lot of these, like systemic challenges that we’ve already seen. And so, I’m comfortable doing it. And I hope that by doing that other people do as well, because I think that’s how we get this, this shift, and people being more comfortable to not view disability as a negative thing. But it’s something that like, enriches our ability to do the work that we do.
Dietmar: I, you know, I applaud you for doing that. Because one of the big concerns I have on the teaching side, is that I’m constantly worried that I’m missing something, that I’m not seeing something, and that I’m not responding because of that. And so that kind of haunts me. So, to have, you know, Caitlin, people like you who are expressing things and letting peop, you know, people like me know about it, I find very helpful and reassuring. So, if that sort of thing can be more generalised across there, because I think there’s a lot of us who either worried about it, or just, it just doesn’t hit our radar, we don’t see it, whether we’re doing it online or in person?
Ann: Well, I think that’s often because we live in a culture that doesn’t actually pay a lot of attention to it just assumes that the world around us is fairly neutral, and that people are different, but the world is neutral. And one of the ways we know that people are made different from each other is through these normative structures of the world as if everybody has going back to us an example you gave us much earlier, Dietmar, if everybody has an open book exam, that’s untimed, then suddenly, you know, whatever a air quotes, “learning disability” is that you need, you know, extra time, etc. is no longer an issue, because the structure of the exam has not now made some people disabled in the face of that exam. But most of us have not thought about that. And even if we think about it, I say all the time, I’ve been teaching stuff like this for 30, well, not quite 30 years or 25 years. And I still am learning all the time because the world changes and because you know, there’s a number of people in it. So, I think it’s how are we going to start the larger conversation so that we don’t always think some people are different and need “help,” quote, unquote, and the world is just fine, and actually start saying the world’s not just fine. It’s only reflective of certain people doing things in certain ways. And that that needs to change. And by changing that, any number of people will suddenly find themselves included back to Caitlin’s point without having to say, “Hi, I’m over here. And I need something” knowing that in the culture that thinks disability is negative and deficit, claiming it is often difficult as in med school, as in law school, as in, you know, kinesiology as in any number of the examples that we’ve raised.
Ann: We’ve been at this for over an hour, but I’m wondering if people have sort of final things they want to say I recognise. We’ve talked for an hour without talking about mental health, which could be a whole other podcast, but maybe we can just ask, you know, what are some sort of final observations or especially from Krysta and Caitlin, what are some things you really like the faculty and administrations of universities listening to this to take away?
Krysta: I think that something that I would like faculties and universities to take away from this is that there is pressure on you. And there should be, because at this point, and in the past, university and education, I think sets the stage for what the expectation is following education. If universities continue to model the accommodation model the individual model and continue to push the onus of responsibility on other people, instead of taking that responsibility and using it constructively, then whatever generations are currently going through university or just general grade school, it’s not going to change anything, there’s not going to be any differences. People are still going to struggle, people are still going to assume that like answer the world is neutral, when we have millions of people saying that that’s not the case for a number of different reasons. I think the main thing is recognising that institutions in general are discriminatory. And it’s not a value judgement based on individual people or people who are involved. But people who can change things do have a responsibility to try and to ask themselves, what more can I be doing? Am I doing enough? And if I being you know, the professor or the administrator, or the President has no idea if they are then ask people ask the people who are who are the most affected, see what more you can be doing, challenge your own ideas about whether you think you’re doing enough, because University any any structure is ableist, any structure is racist, the entire idea of our society is predicated on these ideas that people are equal, and nothing more has to be done. And I think the best thing we can do is challenge those ideas and sort of break them down and have more conversations about how to make things more equitable, how to actually break down barriers and challenge ideas of what you know, what constitutes excellence, what constitutes productivity, is productivity even a good thing, like if we have productivity, but we are people are burning out left, right and centre, is productivity, actually a striving we should be pushing for, there’s a lot of questions to ask ourselves a lot of conversations to have within the academy. And I think they’re long overdue, but this is what we do. It’s work to be done. And we’re going to keep on pushing.
Caitlin: Yeah, I agree with everything that has been said, to add to it, I guess. I love school, I love post-secondary education. I think that the ability to think critically, and challenge systems, and, you know, I know not all post-secondary education is that but mine was at least and I view, post-secondary, I view professional school as building the leaders of tomorrow, building the thought leaders of tomorrow building the community leaders of tomorrow, building the academics of tomorrow. And I think that post-secondary institutions have a responsibility to ensure that disabled people are part of that, because we have so many systemic challenges in that, that we’re facing globally, and in Canada and locally, and we won’t be able to address them unless we include those voices. And so, I hope that, you know, everyone views them there themselves as part of that work to make our campuses more accessible, more inclusive and better able to respond to for stomach challenges that that we face.
Dietmar: Yeah, these are all excellent points, great questions, there’s still a lot of work to be done a lot of self-reflection, I just would add to that maybe as an optimistic note my experience with UDL on the online world, that a lot of the efforts to universal design. And then I’m hoping this kind of also is true in the physical classroom as well, that it’s not wasted time, a lot of my experience has been that some of these changes are good for everybody. And a lot of people benefit from it. So, I would encourage that people who are getting into this and thinking about it that you know, maybe do it also from a selfish point of view to make your own thought better. So, I was just add that as a final thought so and this this conversation has been absolutely awesome. I have learned so much. So, thank you.
Ann: I am going to completely back what Dietmar just said thank you. This has been an awesome conversation. I wish we could go on for about another two hours. I think that’s been true for all of the conversations I’ve been a part of. Thank you, Krysta and Caitlin so much for joining Dietmar and I in this conversation that we began sort of as I said at the beginning talking about a little bit back in November, the 3M’s summit and we really wanted to pursue this idea and this is YouTube been fabulous interlocutors in this conversation. Thank you very much.
Krysta: Thank you so much for having us. And for being open to having these conversations. I know they’re not easy. And I know that kind of disrupts the norm quite a bit. But I’m so happy that you had me here. And I’m so happy that I got to meet Dietmar and Caitlin.
Caitlin: I agree completely. Thank you. Thank you for doing this.
Ann: Thank you so much everyone.
Andrew Wilson: Shifting Conversations was created by the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, or STLHE 2021 cohort of the 3M National Teaching Fellows, with the expert guidance of Judy Bornais and Srini Sampalli. This project was made possible by STLHE with the generous support of 3M Canada Special thanks to the team at STLHE, Jay Adamson Natalie Smith, Tanya Botterill and Debbie Brady. Project management and technical support from Craig Fraser, social media support by Aysha Campbell additional support from Meghan Tibbs original music composed by Hope Salmonson and performed by Ventus Machina. You can find more information on our website www.stlhe.ca/podcasts.