This essay recounts two interconnected collaborative disability studies projects. Because of every person's complex relationship to their own embodiment and that of others, disability beckons us to a realm beyond abstraction, even as the field becomes ever more theoretical. We describe how disability shaped what we did and how we did it; description is a key term here. Conversations such as the ones we had in 2010 and 2012 pave the way for new ideas by offering concrete examples of disability as a generative force. Through risk taking and creative practice, the best academics and artists challenge the status quo, maybe serving as translators for people not in the habit of giving disability or disabled people much thought. The more people come to associate disability with positive ideas, the more we can imagine changing those hardwired negative, pitying forces that dominate approaches to policy, practices, and encounters in daily life.
In May 2008, faculty from across the University of California system gathered for a two-day series of workshops organized by Lisa Cartwright and Brian Goldfarb (both from Communication, UC San Diego). Entitled "Disability Studies: Technology, Pedagogy, Disciplinarity," the meeting was devoted to fostering interdisciplinary and intercampus communication and initiatives in research and teaching in disability studies. Building upon this initiative, Professors Susan Schweik (English, UC Berkeley) and Catherine Kudlick (then History at UC Davis, now at San Francisco State University) got funding to bring together faculty from several campuses within and beyond the UC system for a ten-week residential research cluster in Fall 2010. The core group followed up eighteen months later with a week-long series of performances and workshops that brought together an additional group of twenty-five artists, faculty, and graduate students.
Our stated objective was to expand disability studies by introducing it to new people, broadening its reach into the University of California System, and pushing the boundaries of the field to new places. What follows is an account of what we did together more than a roadmap. Since any advice would by necessity be generic ("remain open and flexible, remember that all forms of experimentation are by definition works in progress, choices and actions often seem far more coherent in retrospect, good food and beverage help A LOT"), we begin with a disclaimer that our experience was unique and probably impossible to replicate, even if the exact same people came together again. That said, we hope that our examples might offer food for thought and might suggest ways of reimagining systems, ideas, and practices already in place, giving readers additional courage to push boundaries and to take risks.
Though it might seem obvious, it's worth stating that disability shaped what we did and how we did it in intended and unintended ways. From the beginning, Sue and Cathy grappled with questions related to access, trying to anticipate a wide range of potential physical and electronic needs. Raising these issues from the beginning rather than tacking them on at the end sets a tone for everything, weaving in the idea that there aren't standard ways of doing things. But more than a matter of access, thanks especially to teaching, we knew that disability engages all of us in personal, often deeply emotional ways. Because of every person's complex relationship to their own embodiment and that of others, disability beckons us to a realm beyond abstraction, even as the field becomes ever more theoretical. Only in retrospect did it become clear that somehow we found that sweet spot between intense emotional issues and abstract theoretical engagement, thanks no doubt to setting a tone where it was ok to show vulnerability. While it would be impossible to provide a list of "best practices" to ensure this "outcome," we mention it in the hopes that being aware of this unusual academic side might light a spark and encourage people not to shy away from tough issues and disability's inherent unpredictability.
Our core group consisted of nine people of diverse disciplinary backgrounds, nearly all of whom had a direct connection to the University of California at the time they applied. In addition to Sue and Cathy, there was Patrick Anderson (Department of Communication, UC San Diego), Georgina Kleege (Department of English, UC Berkeley), Heather Love (English, University of Pennsylvania); Victoria Marks (Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance, UCLA), Darrin Martin (Art Studio, UC Davis), Mara Mills (Science & Technology Studies through Media, Culture & Communication, NYU), and Michele Stuckey (graduate student, UC San Diego). We selected participants who shared an interest in disability studies and came to it from a variety of theoretical and methodological perspectives along a spectrum from more traditional scholarly research and publishing to more experimental forms of artistic production.
Intriguingly, though not surprisingly, the sensory disabilities of several core group participants shaped what we talked about and how those conversations took place, largely through embracing a collaborative practice of audio description. We didn't plan for this — we drifted there accidentally and were delighted to discover its dynamism and spontaneity. While much more went on than can be described here, this account focuses on how what began as something that captured the group's collective imagination became a grounding theme for all that we did. The fluidity and audacity of critical disability studies encouraged us to break out of standard academic thinking by constantly challenging traditional ways of doing things. Thus, an exploration that began in 2010 as a familiar academic forum devoted to our field culminated two years later in an exciting week-long art forum that brought together people from performance, film, design, and visual arts to build in access from the beginning as a part of the creative process.
We were lucky, in that the nine members of the core group bonded, a fact that contributed to the honesty and intensity of our questions. This same bonding fostered a desire to share our extraordinary discoveries. But what was the best way to move our conversations beyond our tight-knit group? In an attempt to bridge the gap between "you had to be there!" and conveying a useful Extraordinary, what follows is a blending of nuts and bolts with descriptions of a few key moments and what we learned.
Because Sue and Cathy anticipated that it might be difficult for some participants to reside for the required 10 weeks in Irvine where UCHRI was located, we proposed a "hybrid" residency, where the group of ten of us would meet face to face for one week at the beginning and one week at the end of the residency, augmenting this with weekly two-hour group conversations via Skype and smaller "affinity" conversations among two or three us who shared common interests. Knowing this was a new model for UCHRI, we took special care to devise and describe a process that would ensure real participation, explaining before we received any applications that accommodating disabilities might take any number of forms, one of them being possibilities for remote participation. Contrary to the fears of UCHRI, we learned that our hybrid model produced one of the most tightly-knit groups they had ever seen.
In May 2010 before the Fall residency began, we met via conference call to introduce ourselves, briefly describe our work and set dates for assembling in Irvine. We also discussed texts we might read over the summer in preparation for the residency. This first call was awkward and halting - we hadn't worked out the fine points of how we'd use technology like Skype or even conference calling, and let's face it, discussing logistics isn't the best ice-breaker.
Meeting in person, even for a week, made all the difference, particularly a meal in a local restaurant our first night where we chatted informally over good food and wine. To those on the lookout for frivolous spending at public universities, this detail would seem superfluous, even suspect, but we came away from our hybrid residency convinced that these in-person encounters were central to our success. They allowed us to raise complex questions with ample time to frame them and to circle back again; at the same time, knowing we were only together for a week gave these explorations a certain urgency. More than anything the informal conversations allowed us to approach disability not just abstractly but also in terms of how it related to each person's lived experience; for example, negotiating the din of a crowded restaurant or shopping together for food in a Trader Joe's introduces numerous opportunities for contemplating what lies at the heart of interdependence. And of course the face-to-face encounters positively framed how we would approach each other remotely with technology.
Our week together also benefitted from the common readings we'd agreed upon, which gave us shared terms and ideas. We chose three recently published works that we either liked or had been wanting to read and that seemed in sync with our group's shared interests: Re-presenting Disability: Activism and Agency in the Museum, edited by Richard Sandel, Jocelyn Dodd, and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (Routledge, 2010) and The Problem Body: Projecting Disability on Film, edited by Sally Chivers and Nicole Markotic (Ohio State University Press, 2010) generated lots of fruitful conversation. But Graham Pullin's Design Meets Disability (MIT Press, 2009) became our intellectual mascot as we built upon his ideas around improbable conversations and thinking of disability as a generative, creative force. We contemplated conversations everywhere: among ourselves, between our fields, and even the pre-apocalyptic UC Irvine campus inspired dialogue about bodies and spaces.
During our week at Irvine we met each day for at least six hours, allowing each person ninety minutes to present current research. We soon realized that hands-on projects offered unusual opportunities for lively and deep conversation. Two examples stood out. In a stunning moment of academic adventurousness and personal honesty, Patrick showed a series of slides related to his degenerative retinal condition. He started to audio describe the images initially because Cathy and Georgina couldn't see them, but soon everyone jumped in, adding bits here and there such as "it looks like a flower" or "there are splotches of light and dark that overlap in places," raising questions such as "is that blood over on the right side?" or "am I wrong to say it looks beautiful?", sometimes laughing, others being moved to tears. It quickly became apparent that this description helped everyone, not just because a lot of the images he showed were totally abstract anyway, but because it provided a complete group experience of working through something together. There was real fluidity, no experts leading, and the people with vision impairments added benefits rather than being passive beneficiaries. This became especially clear when for her presentation Georgina broke us up into groups to describe tactile picture books that she brought along. Now the blind were describing to the sighted people in a shared project of discovery.
Both exercises led to lively interchanges about the meaning of detail, what knowledge conveys, the role of various senses, and how perceptions differ so dramatically even among people with "normal" vision. We enjoyed these exchanges, and would return to them again and again during the virtual segment of our "residency." His hearing impairment was inviting him to approach the use of audio in his art installations in new ways, now enhanced by how the group was coming to think about description; in turn, our thinking was shaped by his new explorations. We gained additional perspective thanks to Darrin whose hearing impairment was inviting him to approach the use of audio in his art installations in new ways, now enhanced by how the group was coming to think about description. These exercises revealed how blindness could be a generative force, a catalyst woven right into the very fabric of thinking and learning with unanticipated results.
Another important bonding moment during our week together came when Vic, a choreographer, led the group in movement exercises structured to make us experience the meaning of embodiment. Having perfected mind-body dualism, most academics don't have occasion to experience our bodies as sites of intellectual engagement. The exercise of moving around a dance studio slowly, quickly, alone, in pairs took us out of the usual academic environment to a meditative place of drifting in a strikingly directed way. Vic followed these exercises with a video of "Action Conversations," pieces that she had done with US veterans who were participants in a combat rehab program at the West Los Angeles, VA Hospital. As our group struggled to audio describe the movements on a small tv monitor, we discovered that having done some of these movements made them both easier and harder to articulate as they merged into our shared experiences. The exercises weren't about disability in the expected sense. Though in one part we were asked to close our eyes as we moved, we weren't simulating; we were each alone with our bodies, imagining them in space and - as came out in subsequent conversation - in time as several of us returned to traumatic and exhilarating moments of childhood. This interlude further pushed us to think about the fluidity among bodies, art, and the life of the mind, what it meant to move through space, and how it defined us as we defined it.
To carry these ideas and impressions into the virtual part of the residency, we set up a schedule of weekly 2-hour Skype conversations, with each member being responsible for leading the discussion based on "assignments" of texts or viewing. Despite fears that virtual meetings would lead to less serious engagement, these calls proved as intense and serious as our in-person gatherings. As a group we agreed that writing and circulating responses of 1-2 pages per week to each "prompt" would help us to be present. We read these before the Skype call, using them to tease out key issues and points of convergence.
A few weeks in, everyone decided it would be fruitful to supplement these large-group conversations with smaller, less-focused ones, the idea being to further replicate a real residency where informal conversations among participants might occur. We literally drew names from a hat to create three "trios." These groups did everything from share work-in-progress to discuss suggestions for further reading. The virtual period was further enhanced by random in-person meetings whenever people from the cluster happened to be in the same place, be it in Northern California, Southern California, or the East Coast.
Our December week in Irvine rekindled our in-person connections and discussions on how to carry the Critical Disability Studies Faculty Research Cluster forward. From the outset, we all agreed that a published volume was not the way to go, especially since so much of our shared work ended up exploring the relationships between art and accessibility as opposed to pushing forward with individual research agendas. Because we wanted to share the excitement of our work together to a broader group of people, we started planning our Final Project as a weeklong new residency that would add several artists into the mix. We'd work in groups with them to create/curate specific projects that would build in creatively conceived access, beginning with the conceptual phase. The week would culminate in a one or two-day workshop that would bring in scholars and members of the community to discuss the final results. Members of the group began exploring additional funding opportunities through humanities and arts organizations.
It's hard to describe, but somehow we functioned as a hive; one of the core group members bubbled up to take care of one thing or another, then retreated due to work, health, or life, only to re-emerge to take on the next task. In the end, we'd raised enough money from University of California arts grants, reaching out to individual campuses through deans of grad studies and interdisciplinary programs, and securing some funding as well as in-kind contributions of apartments and meeting space from the UCHRI, that we were able to support five artists and sixteen graduate students to join us for the culminating event back in Irvine in June 2012.
The successful application we submitted to the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts (UCIRA) summed it up: "We have two aims for this residency and seminar: encouraging artists to create accessible works, and training graduate students in disability arts curation, with a particular focus on innovative genres of audio description. Our hope is to create dialogue around the complexities of arts access and to give a group of artists the chance to work in collaboration with designers, curators, scholars, and critics to create projects that build access in from the ground up. The residency will also offer an exposure to both theoretical and practical issues in disability studies for UC graduate students.
"The week will begin with introductions to disability studies and to existing practices of access (audio description, captioning, sign language, multimodal design, etc.). Each day will feature seminar-style workshops led by scholars in disability studies that consider the history of accessibility as well as possible future directions for practices of access. Each day will also feature open studio time, during which artists can share their work-in-progress, brainstorm, and collaborate with other participants. The final day of the residency will give both the student workshop participants and the artists' time to publicly present their works-in-progress (artistic projects; new models for audio description; etc.)."
As June 2012 drew closer, our core group was nervous. Would our excitement carry over to all the other people who would be coming? Was our foray into audio description the lucky spark of a particular group of people, one that would fizzle out - or worse, backfire - with more people and other personalities in the room? We thought carefully about who had applied to what we were calling "Art Inclusion: Disability, Design, Curation," looking for innovative work and a sense that someone seemed open to the improbable conversations that had so animated our ten weeks together. We sought a blend between people familiar with disability studies and those who seemed poised for the journey. We applied similar criteria in recruiting graduate students.
In the end, the five artists we selected out of a very strong applicant pool proved to be a remarkably interesting group. Some were legends in disability culture, others new and emerging figures. There were theater/performance artists (Victoria Ann Lewis, Terry Galloway), dancer/choreographers (Jürg Koch, and returning core faculty member Victoria Marks), and visual artists with practices in design (Sara Hendren) and filmmaking (Alison O'Daniel, and returning core faculty member Darrin Martin). 1
The night before the start of the Arts Inclusion week, the five artists and core members of the residency met over food and drink, this time in a nearby Indian place that we'd come to love two years before. Once again, breaking naan together worked its magic, and soon it was hard to remember who was new. The next morning our expanded circle enveloped the room of graduate students, some who had bonded at the hotel bar the night before. Core group members Mara and Cathy led the opening exploration of what a "critical disability studies" might mean. To introduce those new to the field, Cathy showed a clip of a standing ovation for Christopher Reeve at the Academy Awards, and invited everyone to describe the clip, a challenge because for the first long minute the only audio says, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Christopher Reeve!" The idea was to analyze a familiar disabled figure from popular culture while modeling a new way for doing this based on the core group's previous experience with audio description. Once Cathy asked why the people at the Oscars were applauding, the room in Irvine exploded with comments, conversation, observations: were they celebrating their friend? Relieved that they weren't up there being applauded? What's Hollywood's real relationship to disabled people? Can mainstream movie-making ever be subversive? The spark that had animated nine people in 2010 extended to a room of nearly forty people two years later.
Maybe because it was simultaneously democratic, creative, useful, and a tad subversive, we always seemed to come back to audio description, just as we had eighteen months earlier. Indeed, we were working against the grain. Like the captions provided for deaf and hard-of-hearing people, the usual "service" approach to audio description takes an existing production and overdubs a description for blind people. Most typically think of it as an access practice, an access aid that discretely inserts information so that a blind person can enjoy visual media along with sighted family and friends. But, as Georgina pointed out when leading her session, it is one that excludes, segregating all blind people in an audience in a group where people are whispering, or brought into a museum "every second Tuesday when the moon is full" and talked to by specially trained experts. We agreed that carefully honed description is more effective than not describing anything for blind people. Still, someone hypothesized that this almost clinical approach to description may have come from the history of rehab and other services for the blind; if description helps blind people get schooled, get jobs, good. But if it is about having fun or blind people questioning what is being presented to them or taking a lead … .
Georgina and Patrick led a session that built upon our early days together while introducing the complexities and subversive potential of audio description to the bigger group of graduate students. After watching a few video scenes with the audio description enabled (still a rare feature), the group talked about the seriousness of the Describer—the authoritative tone of the old school newspaper, as opposed to the blogger who mixes in opinion in (what might be to some) an irritating way. The traditional describer tries to present an authoritative picture: time the gaps, write the description, have it read and recorded and mix back the description, ultimately resulting in a new product. Georgina called this the "Voice of God," an approach and style professionalized by Joel Snyder of Audio Description Associates; his voice is so ubiquitous on audio described films for blind people that once when Georgina met him in an elevator and heard his voice saying "That was a good breakfast," she thought, "Oh my God, I'm in a movie!"
As we learned from our experimenting in 2010, audio description offered an exciting intellectual and cultural entrée into little-explored territory for all visual media. Collectively and organically we discovered a new concept we called "Participatory Description": modes of audio description for visual images/film/video/performance, both as a mode of improving accessibility and as an intellectual/creative practice. (Several members of our group introduced this to SDS when it was in San Jose in June 2011.)
Georgina and Patrick projected an image on the screen: a painting by the blind artist Joel Garcia. They asked first for volunteers to start with some basic image description. Talking about the issues that came up for us in that exercise, we were struck by the preponderance of words that designated uncertainty. People constantly used terms such as "sort of," "maybe," "I might be wrong, but," "I think" or tempered more certain assignations with a halting, questioning voice. At the very moment where the spectators were supposed to perform, to trust, to privilege vision, vision seemed less reliable than ever. Then Georgina and Patrick asked the group to start again, this time with each person describing "how this painting makes you feel." This led to another flurry of conversation, debate, and questions asked by blind and sighted people alike. What do conventions of describing take for granted about what it means to see, to know, to explain? What details are most important, and why? These questions led to bigger conversations about perception, judgment, inclusion, participation, and whether universal access automatically conveys "value-added." It also raised difficult questions. How, for example, could a dance piece, video, or painting be rendered in non-visual ways without compromising the medium or the message? Was there a way that if built in from the beginning (rather than added on as a compliance obligation) these "accessibility" features would enhance an artistic product in unintended ways for all? Whatever lack of clarity or agreement these descriptions produced, one thing was certain: objectivity is not always possible or even desirable.
We quickly realized that such methods invited reflection regarding if/how this method might work in a variety of venues, from the classroom to the stage. To illustrate the point, Georgina and Patrick turned to a classic improv theater exercise, "Sit, Stand, Lean." They asked for three volunteers who had to enact scenes by following clear rules: at all times one person must sit, one stand, one lean. If one changes, the other two have to rearrange their postures. To this setup they added one more rule: the actors have to incorporate into their dialogue some kind of description of what the other actors (or the self) are doing, such as, "Don't just sit there like that!" or "I like the way you stand up for our cause." Or whatever. Georgina and Patrick had some audience members turn our backs so we couldn't see and raise our hands at any moment where we felt we needed some additional description. The rest of the audience was supposed to notice when people were raising their hands and think about how they would describe it and pitch in if necessary. Asked to suggest a scene for the piece, the audience chose a barn right before a horse race with two jockeys and a talking, sitting, standing, leaning horse played by choreographer Jürg.
Audience members started out with descriptions like: "This is the horse standing. This is the horse sitting" until those who couldn't see said "What do you mean 'this'"? Then people began trying to describe it: "Like a Vogue shoot from the 60s." Or "Jürg's face has softened into a smile." The performance - that of the horse and the jockeys as well as the room full of audio describers and people asking questions of them - was funny, warm, vibrant. As we discussed afterward, in contrast to the kind of theater where the text does all the work, it gave a sharp sense of the relationality of the actors to one another while forcing embodied practice into the dialogue. And once again, it raised the issues of what requires describing and why.
To enhance our understanding of audio description, we invited Joshua Miele (Smith Kettlewell Eye Research Institute, San Francisco), an information accessibility researcher who calls himself a serial inventor; he comes up with concepts that apply to getting information into the hands of his fellow blind people: maps, haptics, wayfinding, talking pens. Josh approached description as an entertainment medium and as a means for being socially in tune with peers at a moment in history with a huge proliferation of video: on the web, in the classroom, as a tool, a constantly expanding moving target, a world where video is everywhere, but described video almost non-existent. This gave rise to his latest idea: what if instead of adding description to a video and selling it, or pleading with major studios to include it, the information could be democratically crowdsourced? "Most video description I get is me jabbing my friend in the ribs and asking him to tell me what the hell is going on!" Josh quipped. He introduced his Video Description Research and Development Center where he and a group of researchers seek to capture this information and make it available to everyone. It could be a dance professor describing a dance performance or one friend telling another about what's on a program - maybe in contexts that have nothing to do with blind people - just adding commentary to create a chorus of many, many voices not performing yet still being heard.
Our second invited speaker, Graham Pullin (Art & Design, University of Dundee, UK), was also experimenting with voices. He shared his research on augmentative and alternative communication and new interactions for people who can't speak, focusing on tone of voice. His projects "Six Speaking Chairs" and "Speech Hedge" experiment with different user interfaces (tactile consoles attached to chairs, smartphone apps) to offer possibilities for emotional communications by varying pitch and tone of synthetic voices. While not audio description per se, his approach contributed to our general inquiry around alternative modes of communicating and knowing. Like his book Design Meets Disability, his approach was very much one of critical and interrogative design, rejecting the idea that design equals problem solving, all while proposing new directions and thought about what the design brief (or the access brief) should be in the first place.
Choreographers Jürg and Vic each applied what they were learning from our time together by incorporating access features into dance pieces in dramatically different ways. Jürg's dancers added spoken words to movement both to describe what they were doing, and to evoke the emotional and narrative content behind the movement. He then created a website where anyone could record and upload descriptions of videos of the dances. Vic's piece explored the possibilities of experiencing dance through touch. Audience members were invited onstage, to stand among the dancers, and interpret the composition proprioceptically and kinesthetically.
The week's conversations found their way into work being produced by several filmmakers. One of the original group members, Darrin, participated as experimental artist and videographer. Noting that a lot of discussion of description centered around representational description, he provoked us by showing a 7½ minute abstract film, and challenging us to describe abstraction, each person in turn, every 15 seconds passing the mike, describing, with the understanding that there was no wrong description. Then approximately thirty of us went outside into the bizarre UC Irvine landscape of modern buildings arranged on concentric circles around a park to be part of his video creation. He had a giant old film reel of a science education film called "Clouds and Perception," that would serve as the basis of his creation. He led us out into the park where he spread us out and unspooled the film so that we were each holding part of it in a long winding line; then followed the line with his camera and filmed each one of us describing the section of the film we physically held: either the images actually on the film, or the feeling of the film, or anything that came to mind. Two helpers from the group scurried along with Darrin to place a green screen behind each of us as he filmed us describing our piece of the film in our hands; he explained this technique for "chroma keying" where any green colors can be digitally filtered out and replaced by the desired video. This was how in the finished video he could insert us standing in front of the film we were describing. People really got into it, wearing strange wigs and outfits, describing all sorts of things in all sorts of ways: "Social Science Titles" or "This seems like it's from the seventies. It looks amazing." In the context of our group, the kitschy social science nature photography was great; it got right to our group ambivalence about naturalism, objectivity, and accessibility.
And a beautiful thing was happening as we manhandled that strip of film in the gathering shadows of evening. Our current college students, born in 1990 or thereabouts, and even many of the graduate students, have little or no concept of film being something with tactile properties. We thought of making Darrin's film as an amazing shared experience about the history of cinema and technology.
We don't have space here to describe all of the Impossible-to-Describe—the many creative processes and products we shared together during the residency. They included a staged reading/historical reconstruction of Americans with Disabilities Act hearings, led by Vicki Lewis; a creative writing/poetry workshop, led by Sue Schweik, exploring the relations and differences between traditional modes of ekphrasis and contemporary modes of audio description; Alison O'Daniel's development of a tactile rendition of her ASL name sign, and her presentation of her film Night Sky and subsequent explorations of the relation between visual cinematic space and the actual tactile space of the movie theater. Deaf performance artist and provocateur Terry Galloway, who was an active participant and ready volunteer for all our workshops and experiments, gave a final presentation that was half autobiographical performance piece and half stand-up routine.
Two moments strikingly bridged art and theory: Sara Hendren's account of her work, first on a digital platform to create community and locate accessible practices around the world, and second on building playful, usable, DIY ramps in inaccessible city spaces; and a vigorous discussion of scholarly readings on "Disability, Queerness and the Affective Turn" led by Heather Love. In addition to these faculty projects, we expect that readers will witness many of the fruits of the residency in the future work of the graduate student participants whose names we list at the end. 2
We'll mention but a single example of the grad student work, since it focused directly on the residency itself. One of the graduate student participants, Kevin Gotkin (University of Pennsylvania), captured his impressions of the week in a short film, "The Rupture Sometimes." It exemplifies the kind of practice we were seeking, and it offers additional views of the work of some (but not all) of the artists involved in the residency. Moreover, other creative works, adventurous scholarship, and new ideas will surely emerge from our time together.
Conversations such as the ones we had in 2010 and 2012 pave the way for new ideas by offering concrete examples of disability as a generative force. Through risk taking and creative practice, the best academics and artists challenge the status quo, maybe serving as translators for people not in the habit of giving disability or disabled people much thought. The more people come to associate disability with positive ideas, the more we can imagine changing those hardwired negative, pitying forces that dominate approaches to policy, practices, and encounters in daily life.
Of course much more can be said of our collective explorations at the edges of critical disability studies. But even more waits to be discovered, much of it by accident and serendipity. The trick is to seize upon and nurture our field's inherent resistance to orthodoxy by remaining open to every unlikely conversation wherever and however it might occur.
Special thanks to Patrick Anderson, Mara Mills, Yumi Pak, and Ariele Read for all the amazing behind-the-scenes logistical work as well as to UCHRI and UCIRA, NYU, UCB, UCD, UCSD, and University of Pennsylvania for the funding that made our experiences possible.
- The workshop webpage (http://communication.ucsd.edu/pwa/ArtInclusion/Art_Inclusion/Home.html) contains more details about everyone, including the graduate student participants listed at the end of this account.
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- LIST OF GRADUATE STUDENT PARTICIPANTS: Michael Accinno, Musicology, UCD; Amanda Cachia, Art History, UCSD; Daniel Caeton, Cultural Studies, UCD; Jessica Feldman, MCC, NYU; Laurel Friedman, Communication, UCSD; Danielle Galietti, MFA, Art Studio, UCD; Rebecca Gaydos, English, UCB; Neil Gong, Sociology, UCLA; Kevin Gotkin, Communication, University of Pennsylvania; Ian Hetherington, Cinema Studies, NYU; Leon Hilton, Performance Studies, NYU; Anastasia Kayiatos, Slavic, UCB; Caitlin Marshall, Theater, Dance & Performance Studies, UCB; Ivan Ramos, Theater, Dance & Performance Studies, UCB; Scott Wallin, Theater, Dance & Performance Studies, UCB; Hentyle Yapp, Theater, Dance & Performance Studies, UCB
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