Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On being an academic with disabilities

A sign on an elevator on my campus. It reads "Please restrict class change use to handicapped and equipment transfer"
A sign on one of the elevators on campus
Since the fall semester just started, I've been reflecting on how my life might change going from working on my masters degree to working on my PhD.  I recently read an article from Academe Online entitled "Chronic Illness and the Academic Career" which has made me really think about the consequences of being pretty frank about my spine mess along with the rest of my interesting physiological issues.  I'm pretty frank about the fact that I will be taking six credits a semester (baseline full-time for grad school) because of pain & related issues.  Life for me runs on what some folks have dubbed "crip time."

Running on crip time can impact my academic life in a number of ways, but for me is most apparent in my writing. Just like Sharon from After Gadget, writing takes extra time because of the dark miasma that is chronic illness...particularly writing that is coherent.  Like her, I usually have several blog posts percolating, making sure that my pain or pain-med addled brain (the usual dichotomy of my existence lately) has made something that makes sense to the general populace, doesn't ramble or derail too badly, and I'm willing to post to everyone that might see it.

Scholarly work is like these blog posts in this respect...they need a lot of TLC because sometimes a sentence or a paragraph will make sense to me when I write it, but make absolutely no sense later.  Most of my papers are proofread by friends (as one friend so lovingly stated, "I can see where you went from 'I know Science!' to 'yay pain meds'").  I cherish my scholarly community for our collective proofreading, and have traded drafts of papers with folks across the planet

I'm also very open about the fact that the job market is pretty dismal for tenure-track professor positions, and with my medical needs (both spine-related and birth defect-related) I absolutely cannot live without health insurance...which means being open to working as an administrator within the university setting.  This means I cannot take adjunct positions until a tenure-track position comes available as adjuncting is much like being an independent contractor.  If I were healthy and not disabled, paying for health insurance out-of-pocket wouldn't be a big deal....but that's not how my life is.

Honestly, I wonder how much of this openness comes from an internalized need (due to internalized ableism) to justify my use of adaptive aids like my cane,  wheelchair, use of the elevator, or my parking placard.  I wonder how much of it is related to the current "war on obesity" and how that impacts the myth that all fat people become disabled by their fat (for an awesome post on this, check out this post entitled "Fat People on Scooters" from Ragen Chastain's Dances With Fat).  Essentially, bodies are not equipment (which is why the photo I posted bothers me so much.  This is posted on an elevator on campus) although sometimes my body needs equipment to live life to its full potential.

This post was pretty rambly as I tried to wrap it up before my first day helping out as a TA for an undergraduate course my advisor is teaching.  So I'll leave you with this YouTube video entitled "Shit academics say about access:"

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