Thinkaloud: missing home and missing people, but where are the spaces in which I can actually live?

March 7, 2018 – 10:26 am

I often wonder how to discuss access within engineering in a way that jives with the way engineers already identify as a discipline… and yet doesn’t fall into the rhetoric of “fixing,” which can so easily frame atypical bodies and minds as problems in need of a solution. I am thankful for the work of Sara Hendren and others who show me how to live out this kind of work in dialogue with engineering, including the engineers who speak in public dialogues with her so that I can see that discourse from both sides. (That includes you, Deb Chachra. And you, Tess Edmonds. And you, Lynn Stein. I miss you all so tremendously.)

Working in a Deaf space, in a lab specifically focused on access technologies, I often think about how dangerous it is for me to discuss access within engineering, because it runs the risk of being totalizing with respect to all the rest of my work and myself. Access is not my primary focus, nor my first love. Once upon a time, I loved theoretical mathematics, and the cross-disciplinary complexity of robotics, and the mind-boggling scales of massive software engineering projects. I fell in love with educational philosophy, postmodern theories, the histories of higher education systems. I’m still in love with all those things. And it’s not that “access” is separate from or opposed to any of these things. But the way the world is right now, it’s hard to love the others well, because disability work — access-related work — is a jealous lover, and one that plays altogether far too well to the oversimplified narratives of the news, and the black-and-white of so much technical discourse. The things people say about the access space, and the things they say about you when you even touch the access space — they’re hard to live with, sometimes.

And yet. This space — the space of marginalization and intersectionality (and access and disability) — so often has the types of conversations that I need. You have no idea how hungry I am to overhear this kind of discourse, how much I do not know about how these conversations take place in casual spaces, before they are fully formed. How to think with others about things as they emerge. How fragile and hesitant I still so often feel about joining these kinds of conversations, but how impossible it is for me to grow as a scholar without them, because so much of scholarship is diving into this kind of discourse, being able to join the conversation.

And I have so few opportunities to actually join the conversation. And I mean join it directly, as myself — not mediated or transmuted in some way, no matter how much I enjoy working with skilled interpreters and captioners. My native modality of text is the one “mainstream” world that I can join seamlessly without an accent of some sort to mark me. (I have both a deaf spoken accent and the awkward movements of a non-native signer.) It’s my home, my first community, my comfort zone. It’s been feeling increasingly lost to me as I’ve continued my way through academia and all of its expectations about what writing is and who it’s for. I want to come home again; I want my language and my ways of being and thinking and expressing not to be alone.

This is the company I need; not only support, but support and conviviality with and from those who I can relax with, and who speak my language — not in terms of signing or speaking (and it’s an “or,” not a “versus”) — but in style of thought and willingness to try and hold the world in all its trembling, together. I am so thankful for friends and colleagues who live with me within a world we’re building — not as a separate one onto itself, but as one that intertwines with and permeates and creates itself within the world that we already live in. A grateful shout-out to Rebecca Sanchez for a long conversation on Sunday that helped me remember why scholarship kindled a fire in my soul in the first place, and to Holly Pearson and Todd Fernandez for being my pacing buddies these past few weeks, and the thousands who have been holding me up and helping me breathe.

I wonder if any of my students will see this. I wouldn’t mind if they do. I make no claim of having all (or any) of the answers. It’s always hard to figure out where to go and who we are and what we ought to do, but I know I’m better when I do those things more out in the open, in community, and that’s why I’m writing all these things down this morning. My blog has always been written for my future self, but right now it’s very much a place for my present self to be home, and think out loud, and be among friends as well.

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