Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Access in feminist scholarly spaces

Silly selfie sitting next to my wheels
Last month I was at the National Women's Studies Association annual conference in Cincinnati, Ohio.  I've been to the conference four times now, thanks to one of my masters department professors letting me know about a call for papers in 2010.  As a co-chair of an interest group of the organization, I have to go whether or not I'm presenting a paper or moderating a panel.  This year was one of my "multiple hats" years, with co-chair duties, co-presenting a workshop, moderating a panel, and presenting a my own paper.  So off to Cincinnati I went for my annual gathering of scholarly feminist type people.

Photo description: A selfie taken sitting on the floor next to my wheelchair. The black cushion & back tire with thin spokes are in the foreground, with the rosy cheeked, bespectacled, auburn haired author in the background smiling.

Because of the cost of this conference and the lack of funding available at my institution to get to events like this (which, for people who want to become professors and work in academe, these conferences are required to get a job after graduation), I decided to drive from North Carolina to Cincinnati, Ohio.  Without stops, the drive takes about 7.5 hours according to Google Maps.  With the hourly stops my spine requires of me, this became a really long venture.  The perk was that I could pick what assistive devices I wanted when I wanted them.  I wasn't stuck with only crutches, or only my wheelchair.  This gave me some freedom....and it came in handy because the elevation changes from driving through the Appalachians resulted in less-than-fully inflated tires on my wheelchair (with no good way of inflating them without hunting down a medical supply store or bike shop).

I can't get to the first floor! Ack!
While my transportation afforded me some choices, the conference is notoriously barely accessible for a variety of reasons.  The past years' conferences were held at a hotel convention center.  This year it was at the Duke Energy Convention Center with a separate official hotel (I stayed in a nearby town with Amanda of FatBodyPolitics and another scholar from Texas, & commuted to the conference).  This place was hell as a gimpy person.  The first day we attended we had trouble finding the one accessible entrance (I used my wheelchair).  We then had issues with elevators only going to certain floors, with all the elevators really far from each other.  Also, thick carpet...evil, evil thick carpet.  Add to that bad signage and last minute schedule changes (like a change of time for the Disability Studies Interest Group meeting between the program, the webpage, and the app.....that was complete and utter access fail). I made due with the company of other rad scholars (feminist pool party!!), but it felt like an epic pile of microaggressions.

Photo description: A photo of an elevator button panel. The sign above says "Duke Energy Convention Center" with descriptions for levels 2 & 3. Below are buttons showing options for the second (main) floor, the third floor, DH (unknown location), and open, close, and alarm.

I should make an art book with my crutch
Saturday I decided that my tires were just too flat to use even though I was having a bad pain day.  I really realized how bad the distance between different meeting rooms was that day.  The disability related panels were on one end, the fat studies ones in another area, with access to the exhibition hall and food/sustenance in another.  Because of this, I ended up taking pain medication and found it really difficult to be a functional academic on the day that I really needed to be "on the ball" (with the workshop, moderating, and presenting in the same afternoon).  My paper was in the last panel of the evening from 5:25-6:50pm....while a concert was doing a soundcheck nearby, while a grad student social was going on, in a strange corridor that people had trouble finding....if it wasn't for the awesome response I received for my paper (an autoethnographic work about my experiences as a fat spine fusion patient), I would have seriously considered quitting my involvement with the organization.  Thankfully a bunch of us had a lovely dinner together that made me realize how much I value these kinds of scholarly gatherings (including one scholar and I reminiscing together about life in Northern Minnesota, as both of us are studying elsewhere).

Photo description: a bronze forearm crutch with a rainbow dyed rose propped on it. They are leaning on a brown wood countertop. The roses were in a vase that said "take one" (not shown).

Sunday was a short conference day, so thankfully less eventful.  A couple panels then going through the exhibition hall (a lot of publishers and organizations advertise their scholarly wares in there...most of the organizations don't set up on Sunday though, but most of the publishers offer book sales on display copies).  I had a long drive home that day, so I tried to walk as much as I could....although overdid it because of the books & talking with my hotel roommates (it was like scholar slumber party all weekend and none of us got sufficient sleep.  I regret nothing!).  I warned my partner that I was overdoing it and may need to stop somewhere to either nap or get a hotel room.  Thankfully I made it home in one piece despite being afraid to drive in the mountains at night, but copious amounts of caffeine plus the Honor Harrington audiobook got me back home.

There's my belated conference post.  The TL:DR is that feminist conference spaces need some serious work in accessibility.

Friday, December 20, 2013


Yes, the title of this post is another portmanteau (nerd + newlywed = nerdlywed)...I'm a scholar and those of us in sociology and cultural studies tend to me full of them.  So I'll apologize for my blogging absence of late because my December went from finals week to my nerdy wedding.

Post-wedding selfie in the hotel room
One week ago, I married my partner and best friend in Las Vegas, Nevada on Friday, December 13th.  I know that the date may seem odd, but I am the person who has had some incredibly neat things happen to me on various Friday the Thirteenths (heck, I even have a tattoo with a shamrock and the number 13 on one of my legs).  It was also hearkened to the struggles he and I have been through, and that our relationship has been forged through fire (mostly grad school and spine surgery).

Photo description: A self-photo taken in a hotel bathroom showing a fair-skinned, red-headed woman with plastic framed glasses. Her hair is shoulder length with some of the hair pulled back, dangling earrings, and makeup. She has an olive green drape covering her shoulders and torso, & is holding an iPhone with a Starfleet logo and a Royal Manticoran Navy sticker

The Las Vegas part of the wedding was my partner's idea.  After I proposed, I asked him if he had anything he'd always wanted for his wedding.  He told me that he wanted to get married in Las Vegas by Elvis.  With a little research and discussion, we found a chapel that had a variety of theme weddings....including an intergalactic wedding (the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel).  Since we're both geeks, we decided we may as well make this as fun and campy as possible (especially combined with my constantly uncertain.  I had no interest in wearing a wedding dress, so we wore outfits from our original intergalactic fandoms.  I wore a Starfleet uniform from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with the officer's pips for Lieutenant Commander (my rank in the Royal Manticoran Navy fan organization) and he wore Mandalorian bounty hunter armor that he created from Star Wars.

We had both of our immediate families meet us in Las Vegas and it was absolutely fantastic.  Because the chapel broadcasts all of their weddings on their webpage, we were able to share the link to the ceremony with friends and family that couldn't attend for various reasons.  Even better, my parents agreed to pay to have the wedding stay on the chapel's webpage so even more people could virtually attend & celebrate with us when they were able!

Our view from the Excalibur hotel room
Photo description: A snapshot from our room on the 22nd floor of the Excalibur Hotel & Casino. Several brightly lit buildings of the Las Vegas Strip are shown as well as the red sign of the Excalibur.

As I recover from the trip, I'll write more about the trip....but we still have a local reception to plan for (details will be on our wedding site for local folks to attend).  I will also have a "Flying While Gimpy" post (I didn't fly with my wheels, just with forearm crutches).  I'll also post some about access issues I had in Vegas as a part of the User Friendly Vegas project from Pattie (my first guest blogger).  I'm trying to break up the trip by topic instead of giving you all a play-by-play of our five days of travel!

If anyone wants me to write about anything in particular, let me know!

Friday, December 6, 2013


My crutch plus a rainbow rose
I just wanted to say that I apologize for the huge gaps in this blog.  I have ten posts, all unfinished, in the hopper but I can't get the right combination of time and energy to finish them (like the Gen Con post, or the post about going to National Women's Studies in November, or thanksgiving).  I've been incredibly busy and would love to tell you folks how it's all going....but I just am struggling right now!

With my GP (and not much help from my pain management doctor, sadly), we're trying to figure out why my energy level has tanked, why I'm having trouble with my short term memory and reading comprehension (which is a particularly hellish symptom in grad school), and why I still am sleeping like garbage despite how exhausted I am all the time (improperly treated pain plus untreated narcolepsy is my current guess).  I had a medial branch block series of injections yesterday that is supposed to help narrow down the nerve problems I'm having post-spinal fusion (we'll see what happens with that....I'll blog about that experience once I clear finals + my wedding).  On top of all that (plus the financial mess that makes because of the American Medical Industrial Complex).

Hopefully I'll clean up a post every couple days now that the semester is wrapping up...although I am still working on incomplete coursework from last year (because of surgery and not being able to take a leave of absence due to financial reasons).  Thanks for your patience!

Photo description: A bronze and black forearm crutch laying against a light and medium wooden desk.  A rose with rainbow petals is propped on the crutch.