For those of you who might have missed some of my previous blogs, I am highly involved in disability rights here on campus. My doctoral degree is centered on how higher education discusses disability. I represent Disability as an identity as a Caucus representative.
This is why I went through the troubling experience of attending the “Wheelchair Walk” event on the evening of Monday, October 24th. Naturally, local media was there to capture this “awareness” event (though there was no notice ahead of time for participants, or anyone being asked to consent to be on TV). From the event’s facebook posting,
Join us for an evening roll around Blacksburg and Virginia Tech to experience challenges to accessibility and inclusivity for people with mobility impairments. Garrett Brumfield, motivational speaker with Overcome Yours will be sharing stories and experiences of navigating urban space with the aid of a mobility scooter. Wheelchairs and other mobility aids will be provided.
I myself was urged to “crip up” as there was still an available wheelchair by the time I arrived. I declined and said that I was already disabled enough to participate in the event. Non-existent crickets chirped in the distance.
The simulation itself was yet another awkward mis-representation of Disability, as an identity as well as in the myriad forms that can be embodied. What occured after the walk was a discussion; nondisabled participants “shed” their Disabled skins and devices in order to fit into the small room, full of tables and chairs. Those who utilize mobility devices, however, had to squeeze in and move around all of these obstructions.
This is cripface. This is “cripping up” for an evening simulation that actually provokes sympathy and pity, not empathy and understanding; that provokes fears of having to incorporate similar experiences in daily life. This is putting on Disability as a costume, for a performance.
The most disturbing part of the evening, however, was the fact that the conversation began by marginalizing the group that they were trying to make everyone more “aware” of, in the larger context of the Virginia Tech and Blacksburg communitity. In a room with Disabled people who have lived experiences with mobility devices, the nondisabled experience was centered; the first question asked was, “So, for the able-bodied people, what was the hardest thing?”
Resources on “Cripface”
- CripFace – blog post from People Aren’t Broken
- How Technology Makes it Easier for the Film Industry to Discriminate Against Disabled People – blog post from crippledscholar