Introduction

The act of noticing the inclusion or exclusion of disabled people or that of noticing the presence or absence of access, are socially organized activities, ways to engage social space — these are interpretive acts. Noticing the presence or absence of access, or of people, are ways of bringing everyday life to consciousness. What does it mean to proceed with this form of consciousness and notice that which was not noticed at another time? In the time of noticing, what might we come to learn not only about access, inclusion and exclusion, but also about the time/space relations that generate such noticing? Or, in more phenomenological terms, "…existence is for us essentially linked to time…" (Levinas 1996, 12). This means that theoretically engaging the act of noticing disability as well as access issues are political interpretive acts that bring socially organized forms of perception to awareness. Such theorizing, in the words of Judith Butler (2009, 8), is a way of "framing the frame."

Our time is a space framed, occupied and controlled by Western bureaucratic practice and, as such, the inclusion and exclusion of disability is also framed, occupied and controlled by bureaucratic practice. Consider, for example, the international endeavor to classify health and disability issues in a singular and unified fashion. There exists, today, a consistent (almost universal) research process whereby disability is managed through person-first vernacular — "Persons with Disabilities" (PWDs) — persons with "restrictions or inabilities to perform an activity considered normal for a human being due to a loss or abnormality of bodily structures or functions…" (World Health Assembly [WHO], 1980). The global reach of bureaucracy is demonstrated by its consistent and singular expression of disability that all but erases the radical cultural diversity of embodiment. The global process of bureaucratizing embodiment recommends that it is fair, or morally correct, legally efficacious, or even tacitly neutral to regard disability as a condition attached to some people while disregarding the ways disability is differentially conceptualized around the world.

Our time is framed and occupied by the bureaucratization of life which is now both obvious and dominant, and that it is so makes it a key time to consider the constitution of the meaning of people as well as our essential inter-relatedness. Bureaucratic time is read and measured out in terms of the development of policy, plans, programs and procedures that aim to address a problem in a consistent and unified fashion through regularized use of rules (Weber 1946, 196). The time of bureaucracy might be plodding, but it is also usually assumed to be progressive, productive and, especially, predictable. It is the time for "making the same" — the same measures for those regarded as the same sort of people who are similarly qualified for the same orders or offices of highly regularized participation (Stiker 1999, 136).

This paper1 seeks to explore meanings made of disability by examining how bodies, minds, senses, and emotions are being noticed as a bureaucratic management issue in university life. My goal here is not to develop a better bureaucratic approach. Instead, I attend to bureaucratically based practices through which universities notice disability and access as they relate to the framing of time by the structures of daily life. In doing so, I interrogate a history of the ordinary moment of now made up of narratives of generation and perpetuation of the presence and absence of disability's inclusion and exclusion in university space in contemporary times. I will show how the bureaucratic framing of the times of access in the university serves to constitute disability as if it is "not-yet" present. From this position of the universities' sensibility of "not-yet," disability becomes a timely place to critically engage bureaucratized educational practice as it relies on and generates conceptions of "excludable types."

Access as a Form of Perception

It is not as though there is simply the subject of disability meeting the objects of space, policy, attitudes or barriers. It is, instead, that subject and object exist in modes of relatedness that endure; that take time, occur in time, relates us to our time, and, for the purposes of this paper, represents the time of reflection. The question of the relation between bodies and social space is an emerging concern for how, under bureaucratic governance including legislative or procedural change, disability remains more or less represented as an unexpected participant (Prince 2009, 2004; Dossa 2009; Slee 2004; Ware 2004). This leads to bureaucratic changes regarding access and disability policy functioning as if no change has occurred. For example, despite changes to both the bureaucratic policy and procedures organizing accessibility and accommodation issues at the University of Toronto, the rate of disability among both faculty and staff has remained very low, around 3% of the working population. This rate has remained more or less unchanged since the University began collecting employment equity statistics in 1996. At that time, faculty and staff who reported to have a disability represented a rate of 4.6% of the work force of the University (University of Toronto 2002, Employment Equity Report, 7). The high of 4.6% is still remarkably low when compared to the general disability rate within the Canadian population which ranges from 14% to 17% depending on what organization conducts the count (Canada 2004; 2002; 2000; Prince, 2009). One way the 2002 University of Toronto Equity Report (University of Toronto 2002, 7) makes this discrepancy in disability rates between the general population and its faculty and staff a "reasonable" discrepancy is by saying that more than 75% of those reporting a disability in years past were tenured full or associate professors who likely retired by 2002. An implication of this account is that despite bureaucratic tracking, management, and the development of new policy and procedures to address faculty and staff "with disabilities," little change to the actual relation between place of work and conceptions of disability have occurred.2

Interrogating everyday articulations of any link between time and disability leads toward understanding how the concept of inclusion can act to exclude (Graham and Slee 2008; Clough 2002). As the above example demonstrates, the inclusion of statistical renderings of disability can represent disability as a type that seems reasonable to exclude. And, interrogating how the presence of disability access issues serves to generate meanings of embodiment can also help us consider how we might begin to resolve the paradox of "in(ex)clusion" (Ware 2004) in new and more imaginative ways by beginning to wonder about how we go about making up the meaning of people within everyday life.

In the next section, I narrate bureaucratically based practices used to manage questions regarding physical and social access in university space. I explore some of the actual ways that the province of Ontario's new regulations for disability access enters the lives of the people in this diverse urban university environment. By developing an amalgam of things people say about access during public meetings without identifying any individuals, the narratives serve to represent, not individuals, but instead things possible to say today, the "say-able" (Titchkosky 2008, 41) about disability and questions of access. I turn now to a story of my work life so as to explore the bureaucratization of "life and limb," not to lament or praise it but, instead, theorize the meaning of this story insofar as it shows the workings of culture.

The Times of Bureaucracy

I work in a large urban research and teaching setting, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), of the University of Toronto. The twelve story tower of OISE has, since the 1980's, included basic access features such as a fairly accessible front entrance way. My place of work is located in the province of Ontario which is beginning to implement the Access for Ontarian's with Disability Act (AODA). This act, passed into law in 2005, and currently being translated into province wide, enforceable, accessibility standards, includes five key areas of daily existence; 1. customer service, 2. transportation, 3. information and communications, 4. the built environment and 5. employment. One more piece of contextual information is necessary for the telling of my story; not only do I work in a University building in a province implementing an accessibility act, I also work with graduate students, faculty and staff, some of whom use, like, or otherwise need an accessible washroom. In 2006, there was no such washroom; in 2009 there are two such washrooms (main floor and 5th floor). This is the context of the following story…

"Will the community of OISE," again, some faculty ask, "Will the community of OISE be notified the next time one of the accessible washrooms is closed down?"

The answer from administration is a very robust and very complicated "It depends." It depends on how long or how often it is shut. It depends on the washrooms that will be built in the future. It depends on whether people find it necessary to know; on who tells whom and when; it depends on who knows what to do; on who wants to know; and on where, why for and how. It depends on how the notification should occur — email, web site, main entrance lobby notification board…it depends. Some people say, too, that we certainly do not want to fatigue the community with any more email announcements… so, really, in the end, it depends.

"It depends" is a fascinating social orientation to the time and place of disability. Judith Butler (2009, 49) puts the matter of dependence in this way: "…how do we understand what it means to be a subject who is constituted in or as its relations?" Whether or not disabled people will be told about the absence of essential services depends on many external factors and this is a way of constituting the subject of disability "as its relation" to the university. The presence and participation of disability "depends" on a host of burecratic procedures and is more or less unrelated to peoples' rights and desire to be present and participate. In this way, some people are constituted in a relation of dependency, a relation that is essentially imposed on to the disabled subject constituted as a dependant variable, whose presence or absence will shift and change depending on the needs and interests of the bureaucratic environment. But as Butler suggests noticing this constituted form of extreme vulnerability is not the same as understanding what it means to constitute disability as a type whose presence is made to depend on something other than its rightful presence. In order to pursue this sort of understanding, the story continues…

While community knowledge of washroom closures depends on a great variety of administrative variables; it does not seem to depend on the fact that some people can not attend classes, meetings or other events unless there is a usable washroom. Neither does it seem to depend on the fact that people enjoy or desire such washrooms. But some people recognize that there are those who do deserve, need or want such washrooms and ratchet up the pressure. The communication of washroom closures becomes an issue before faculty governing council. "How will the community of OISE be notified when the accessible washrooms are closed down?"

People want to wrest the answering of the question of how to notify people if an accessible washroom is closed, out of the control of those who say, "It depends." The aim becomes establishing a bureaucratic process that does not depend on one individual, or the ongoing perpetuation of current bureaucratic order or concerns. "We want to be notified by email," it is argued "just like anyone else." Just like this: "In order for the plumbers to complete urgent repairs, we need to shut the hot water in all washrooms. We apologize for any inconvenience." Or, "Please ensure that all plants/nick-nacks are removed from the window sills. … the contractor will not clean those windows where personal items are found." Fire alarm testing; parking lot closures; heating problems, parades or protests… all are announced; and accessible washrooms should be announced just like this, or so the argument goes.

But further complications arise since saying that disability is an issue just like any other does not strike some people as plausible since disability has already been conceptualized as a dependant variable that is unlike the needs and interests of the smooth functioning educational bureaucracy. Those who argue against a general procedure whereby the community will be informed about the closure of accessible washrooms say:

What about email fatigue? Really, we get too many pop up messages.

Do all buildings have to notify if their washrooms are closed down?

Do all washrooms receive such notification?

There are two accessible washrooms now, it's not so essential if one is closed down.

Are all buildings open 24 hours like this building? Do other campus buildings have to supply an accessible washroom throughout these 24 hours?

And, then, even the AODA legislation meant to ensure improved access for Ontarian's with disabilities becomes or is understood as in fact a barrier to improving access.

The AODA requires a lot of training for faculty and staff. We don't want to get in the way of that training, we don't have to comply until 2012 you know.

The AODA is going to be implementing across campus, in all buildings, we don't want to do anything here at OISE and then have to undo it.

If we start communicating about washroom closures, people might get their expectations up and what if we have to change once the AODA is implemented across campus?

In these say-able things regarding not notifying others of closed essential services, disability is being conceptualized as too much, too variable, too difficult on and for the needs and interests of the bureaucratically structured educational setting. Still, the story does not end here merely with my identification of wrong and inadequate responses to disability and access issues. Since bureaucracy orders not only those who do not see good reasons to improve access, but also those who do, there is more to the story. There is, for example, more to come from those who argue that it is essential that all be notified if an accessible washroom is closed:

We are not just talking about access to washrooms here; we need to think about all matters of exclusion.

This is a wider issue, how else are we blocking students from participating at OISE, what about course outlines and assigned readings?

We should not just be talking about washroom closures! We need a more universal equity statement that includes disability but other equity seeking groups too.

What about access issues faced by poor students, by racialized and trans students, by non-status students, by students with family obligations or language barriers?

Some people argue for a more inclusive version of equal access for all; others continue to argue for a more inclusive version of the campus buildings, campus wide policies and universal procedures. The arguments on both sides, and everything in between, escalate. No resolution is found, but a definite "conflict of interpretation" is made manifest (Ricoeur 1974, 10). Yet, there is likely little that is unique to this story. That disability and access issues depend on individual good will as in the charity model of disability or upon their unity with other political or equity seeking groups, is also not unique to this story. There is also absolutely nothing unique about turning to bureaucratic policy and procedure in order to attempt to address an access issue or to do so in order to attempt to avoid it. Whether disability is too much and too variable an issue to be noticed as include-able or whether it is too little a concern and just the tip of the iceberg of inequalities operating in the university today, these differing ways of addressing disability, access, inclusion and exclusion are framed by bureaucratized narrative structures. So, while there is likely nothing unique in my story, this is the stuff of life, that Hannah Arendt (1994, 308) reminds us is the daily food for thought, the beginning place for social inquiry.

Who is Included in All?

All engaged in this discussion of washroom notification expressed a desire for good bureaucratic management. All understood that access issues are the time of and for bureaucracy, which means whatever is done it needs to respond equally to all as much as is possible. But it turns out that responding equally to "all" involves, what Paul Ricoeur (1974, 10) refers to as "conflict of interpretation" which is an essential moment for critical inquiry dedicated to better understanding how we already understand. It is not the resolution of the conflict, but the frame of the conflict itself that is in need of understanding since this conflict is the social space where the meaning of what is argued about is being made and represented. This conflict of interpretation is not about whether or not washrooms are essential; nor is it if or how communities should be informed about essential services. The rub of this interpretive conflict exists at the level of the notion of "all". Who or what is this community's "all" to which notification should be directed? Who is included in "all"? The meaning of "all" has everything to do with the act and shape of giving notice. How notice is given and to whom is part of an access argument in and through which the meaning of person is being achieved. Let us turn to a consideration of the arguments, taken together, which have the effect of constituting a version of "all" that is a time and space of an interpretive conflict.

In this access fight, disability is made to symbolize a destabilizing conception of "all". This interpretive conflict regarding "all," is tricky to understand so I will try to map it. There is the all of all washrooms, all buildings, all over campus (a structural-all); there is also the all of all the rules and all those who make and enforce the rules (a procedural-all); there is as well the all of all disabled people whether they use accessible washrooms or not (not-yet an all, but instead a particular type, too much and too little); there is also all professors, all students and staff who are all the people who are already receiving too many emails (the taken-for-granted-all of "all of us"); finally there are all the matters that relate to education and equal access for all (an ideal-all). Which "all" are we talking about here?

The conflicting interpretations of "all" grounds the possibility of an argument over notification of closed essential services. Should notification procedures be consistent and applicable for all buildings all over campus? Should notification procedures be consistent and applicable to all people who enter the building, or just to those who pay fees or official participants? Should notification procedures be consistent, applicable and respond to all matters of equal access which includes access to services and offices, to information, class content, as well as movement to, in and around the built environment? Or maybe we mean to speak of an "ideal all"? But, if the issue is equal access for all, then washroom notification is not sufficiently general enough to warrant its own particular bureaucratic administration. The possibility of these questions as well as any bureaucratic response to them are grounded in the fact that disability is conceptualized as not a regular, expected, normal, desired, essential part of the setting; framed as this sort of present absence no one is sure what do to.

The expansion and the contraction of a conception of "all" plays a role in the bureaucratization of embodied life; and all this means is the official implementation of "no change," at least, not yet. Disability disturbs because it is "not yet" taken as part of the all. There are many versions of "all" on campus that do "not yet" include disability. Thus, disability is included into the equal access debate in the shape and in the time frame of a "not-yet." It is not-yet the time for the inclusion of disability since disability is regarded as a variable that is dependant on the essential functioning of the bureaucratized educational environment. The time of disability inclusion is, at best, the effect of good bureaucratic governance and this is interlaced with the danger of reproducing disability as "not-yet" really present even in policy and procedures of inclusion and improved access. This means that some people are present as potentially always absent since disability is imagined as not part of the all to which bureaucratic measures must respond. Disability remains dependant on and vulnerable to the essential needs of burecratic order. This is one way to understand why in times of economic down turn bureaucratic measures for inclusion easily disappear. What is not essential to the concept of "all" can disappear as soon as the all is threatened or constrained.

Even as the new legislation (AODA) is being implemented and access must be changed (by 2010, by 2012, by 2025); even as conceptions of disability as a legal matter requiring response become part of all Ontarian workplaces (with more than one employee); disability remains imagined and configured as a not-yet. The actual embodied reality of students, faculty and staff who provoked a consideration of the built environment and its communication almost disappear in the arguments regarding improved access procedures. Perhaps, embodied particularity is not a containable bureaucratic matter. But disability is certainly incorporated as not-yet fully present. It is not that someone cannot attend class because there is no accessible washroom; it is instead that disability, unlike window cleaning, is not yet imagined as an essential aspect of all of our lives. Disability is managed as an excludable type within bureaucratic rule insofar as it is read as if it is "not-yet" present.

How does disability regularly materialize (Butler 1993, 32) as a "not-yet" where the bureaucratic principal "generally applicable to all" ends up actually including disability as an excludable type? All the structures, all procedures, all already present people, and the ideal of all itself somehow manages to include disability as an excludable type. A consequence of bureaucratic global occupation is not only that particular lives of people need to be made to fit into the bureaucratic type, but so does almost every form of practice (including who tells whom about what). Still another paradox — the AODA legislation has already fully spelt out what to do about closed washrooms and other essential services. The customer service standard of the AODA says, "Provide notice when facilities or services that people with disabilities rely on to access or use your goods or services are temporarily disrupted." (AODA 2005, Accessibility Standards for Customer Service, Ontario Regulation 429/07). Even though the provision of notice of the disruption seems like all that needs to be done, it is it turns out that it is not so simple to implement such a standard in a bureaucracy that frames disability as a "not-yet."

These conflicts and growing tensions among all the competing arguments of what to do about washroom closures continue and they do so despite the fact that all sides appear to be attempting to participate in some version of forging a good or reasonable bureaucratic response. What grounds this escalating complexity and conflict? The procedure of what to do in the future cannot address the concept of disability that has already been delivered from its past and the competing meanings of all and disability exclusion remain untouched. Notification practices remain blocked since configured as a "not-yet," disability becomes a time where, at best, plans will be made to address plans to be made. Is this a bureaucratic SNAFU, that is, "situation normal — all fouled up"? Or, is this the normal and reasonable outcome of disability included and incorporated as a not-yet by excluding disability from all competing conceptions of "all" — is this situation normal3 — almost fully unified, again SNAFU?

Not-Yet & Present

Not treating disability as a naturalized problem in need of better bureaucratic management but instead understanding disability as an interpretive category is difficult. Understanding disability as the interpretive category of the "not-yet" is even more difficult. By saying that disability is being constituted as the not-yet, I am not suggesting that disability is not present. Disability is with us and in us all at both the symbolic and material levels and is so at all times… and yet it is not-yet recognized as a worthy, important, participant. Disability is apprehended as a problem for bureaucratic organization and thus in need of a bureaucratic solution to make it not a problem and this requires the act of same-ing where the worth of a version of "person" can shine forth over and against any difference disability may make (Michalko 2002). Disability is present but not accounted for since it remains the time where we have not-yet begun to realize that we all already have conceptions of disability that have not yet begun to be examined.

As a category of human interpretation, disability comes with the possibility of becoming a not-yet; included so as to be excluded, present and yet absent, at one and the same time not-fully-present-troubling-presence. This constant ambiguous status of disability — its not-yet status — is a key feature of the kind of marginality that we come to face when we face disability. It is not just that bureaucracy cannot deal with ambiguity incarnate, it is also that taken-for-granted conceptions of "all," all of which do not yet include disability as a key aspect, need always to manage disability… out. Does bureaucracy need this "not-yet-time" in order to face the time of needing to rethink its plethora of exclusive and conflicting "all"s ?

But there is more. In the words of Judith Butler (2009: 9, 10) "Something exceeds the frame that troubles our sense of reality; in other words, something occurs that does not conform to our established understand of things… [Since] What is taken for granted in one instance becomes thematized critically or even incredulously in another." What needs to occur is that the taken-for-granted, bureaucratic conception of disability be thematized and examined. In this sense we can read disability studies as emerging in response to, and as a way to thematize, the taken-for-granted normative order surrounding disability in the university work-place environment. Disability studies exceeds expected conceptions of disability by framing the ways in which time has been spent attending to embodiment in social space by the dominant order of the day. It is engaged in the critical work of, to borrow from Butler, "framing the frame." It is through this troubling of the routine ordering of disability that people are then, offered the possibility of rethinking the time and place of bodies and social space in bureaucratized structures of daily life, a life which is exported around the globe today. Disability studies examines the actual time and the actual place that disability is currently allotted in and by these same world organizing structures. Such an examination requires that we make use a more restless time, one that returns us to reflect on what already is as a way to launch an inquiry. Through this sort of restless reflexive inquiry which is not-yet certain of the meaning of what is and not-yet certain about what to do, we might come to trouble bureaucratic rule as does disability itself.

The implications of recognizing that disability exceeds its framing, allows us to turn to some instances in the "history of the present" (Grosz 2003, 25) where disability is showing up and enduring in university life as a not — yet and more or other than excludable. It was, after all, disabled people and allies who raised the question of what do to in the face of closed essential services and who drew out from a work-place community something much different than a plan for how to respond to such closures.

Works Cited

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Endnotes

  1. A version of this paper is part of my latest book, The Question of Access: Disability Space, Meaning and it also marks the beginning of a new SSHRC sponsored research project, "The Cultural Production of Disability as an Excludable Type in University Life," with co-investigator, Dr. Rod Michalko (SSHRC, #410-2009-2539).


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  2. For other examples of the critical importance of theorizing collective conceptions of disability in relation to physical space, policy and procedural change consider, Frazee 2005; O'Tool 2004; Michalko 2002; 2001; Titchkosky 2008; 2006; 2003; Watts and Erevelles 2004.


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  3. For an example of how disability studies can be read as an field adept at interrogating "normalcy" consider, for example, the various authors collected in Titchkosky and Michalko 2009.


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