In this episode, Platypod presents a conversation between Laura Heath-Stout (Brandeis University) and Rebecca-Eli Long (Purdue University). They discuss their research and experiences of ableism in academia, anthropology, and higher ed, in general.
This episode was created with the participation of Laura Heath-Stout (Brandeis University, speaker), Rebecca-Eli Long (Purdue University, speaker), Kim Fernandes (University of Pennsylvania, host), Svetlana Borodina (Columbia University, host), Gebby Keny (Rice University, sound editor), and Angela VandenBroek (Texas State University, CASTAC web producer).
The transcript of their conversation (edited for comprehension) is available below.
Svetlana Borodina (SB)
Welcome to Platypod, the official podcast of the Committee for the Anthropology of Science, Technology, and Computing. Here we host dialogues and conversations about the theories, tools, and social interactions that explore questions at the intersection of anthropology and Science and Technology Studies. I’m Svetlana.
Kim Fernandes (KF)
And I’m Kim, and we’re your hosts today. We’re two early career scholars whose research interests pivot around disability. For our first series of episodes, we engaged with scholars working at the intersection of disability, science and technology studies, and anthropology.
The first thing I would like to ask you is to please introduce yourself by saying your name and affiliation.
Laura Heath-Stout (LHS)
I am Laura Heath-Stout. I am, at the time of recording, a Wenner-Gren Hunt Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Beginning in August 2022, I will be a full-time Lecturer in the University Writing Program at Brandeis University.
Rebecca-Eli Long (REL)
And I’m Rebecca-Eli Long. I’m currently a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology and gerontology at Purdue University.
Please tell us more about the research that you’re doing. What brought you to study ableism in anthropology and higher education more broadly? How do you study it?
I have been studying the ways that intersecting systems of oppression shape the discipline of archaeology. My background is in archaeology, although now I do ethnographic work about archaeologists. So this began in my dissertation research when I focused on racism, sexism, and heterosexism. But a handful of my interviewees had nonapparent disabilities, and they really persuaded me that I needed to be talking about ableism as well, especially because I was aiming for intersectionality. So, in more recent years, the project has shifted to also include discussion of both classism and ableism in the discipline of archaeology. I took the stories that these four original interviewees told me and published an article in the International Journal of Historical Archaeology earlier this year called “The Invisibly Disabled Archaeologist,” specifically about the experiences of archaeologists with nonapparent disabilities. But then, for the book that I’m currently writing, I did a whole bunch more interviews, some follow-up interviews with dissertation interviewees, but also interviews with new folks who had not talked to me before. Part of that was that I specifically wanted some of my interviewees to be people who have apparent disabilities, and no one in my original sample had apparent disabilities. And so I did 72 interviews for the book and then a further 30 interviews for the second round. Right now, I’m working on that book, and it’s intersectional. It looks at how ableism and other intersecting forms of oppression shape who does archaeology, what kinds of experiences people have in school and on career paths in archaeology, and what kinds of research about the human past archaeologists are able to do, given the sort of limitations of diversity and equity issues. I also have hopes for some future projects to focus more specifically on visibility and archaeology. I have some ideas for looking at equity issues among archaeologists in the present and also using disability studies theory to look at disabled people in the archaeological record.
Going chronologically: I began to understand myself as disabled shortly before I started my undergraduate degrees in anthropology and art, which really crystallized my interests in visual representation and our structures of power and knowledge. At the same time, I was encountering academic ableism. I wouldn’t have used that phrase at the time. But I was really eager to make meaning and understand these experiences. Cultural anthropology gave me the tools to do that, even though my courses never really directly addressed disability or ableism. This lack of attention wasn’t something I noticed much originally. But as I began various forms of fieldwork, both domestically and internationally, the experience of being disabled, through both neurodiversity and various chronic illnesses, just became so apparent. This manifested in two ways as I moved into graduate education. First, I had a deep sense that these experiences were being overlooked in academia, including anthropological training, which led to a desire to find ways to make personal and collective experiences of disability in higher education visible through reflexive and artspace methods. And to do this to develop evidence of the need for systemic change. And secondly, I found myself with a real longing to do ethnography to challenge the ideal of able-bodiedness in fieldwork. And through pure fate, I had a housemate to teach me how to knit, which absolutely revolutionized how I thought and interacted with the world around me. I realize this sounds a little hyperbolic, but it was an insight that, as it developed over time, really made me think about how knitting aligned with autistic sensory preferences and reshaped the type of interactions I had when I brought knitting with me to do fieldwork. When I moved into my Ph.D. coursework, I didn’t actually set out to include knitting in my dissertation. It was just sort of a joke for a while. And then I actually started thinking more about knitting and knowledge production in academia: specifically, through understanding knitting as what some autistic people might term a special interest or really intense passion. In diagnostic terms, we could call this “restricted and repetitive behaviors.” So thinking about special interests as this term where autistic people make meaning around our experiences and which shows moments of joy and enthusiasm, I wanted to bring this concept into my research, and I developed a research plan involving participatory textile making and knitting to engage in different types of ethnographic work. And to tie this back to ableism and higher education, I see knitting as a chance to rethink what knowledge generation and academia can look like.
Thank you. This all sounds super interesting. What is your working definition of ableism? How do you recognize ableism and its forms? What are the different kinds of ableism? In your experience, who is affected by ableism and in what ways?
I frequently refer to TL Lewis’s working definition of ableism, which defines it as (I’m sort of paraphrasing here) a system of assigning value to people’s bodies and minds based on socially constructed and therefore deeply racist, imperialist, sexist, etc. ideas of normalcy, productivity, fitness, and so forth. One of the reasons I like this definition, in addition to it coming from the Black Disability Justice perspective that I think is imperative to uplift, is that it explicitly states that people don’t have to be disabled to experience ableism. This draws attention to just how pervasive ableism is, in many people’s daily lives. I would argue that close to everyone experiences ableism, but of course, we don’t all experience ableism in the same ways or to the same extent. So while we can begin to recognize everyday forms of ableism, such as those that demand people be productive and hyper-capable, as I think is very relatable for people in academia, we can also use this definition to recognize how disabled and other marginalized peoples face intertwined oppression around being judged less valuable, capable, and worthy.
I wrote down “the systemic oppression of disabled people, including both bigotry and more systemic or subtle exclusions and hardships.” And with specific references to the social model of disability, which has its drawbacks, but that is the idea that is unlike the medical model, which says that disabled bodies and minds are broken and need to be fixed, or the charity model, which says that we, disabled people, should be objects of pity and charity. The social model says that bodies and minds can be different from each other, but the problem is not differences or impairments, it’s actually, similar to Rebecca-Eli’s definition, the society that puts value differently on different kinds of bodies and minds in terms of who’s affected. So within my research in archaeology, I’ve thought a lot about how some disabilities are more apparent than others. Some of my interviewees who use mobility aids or have visibly differently shaped bodies than what’s expected often face a lot of real outright hostility, being shut out of field experiences and being subjected to constant doubt about their competence and ability, being seen as burdens.
Some of the most common disabilities in archaeology are nonapparent. These might include mental health disabilities and some chronic health conditions. And so for a lot of people with nonapparent disabilities, like me, this sort of default is to pass as nondisabled because people just look at you and think that you’re not disabled. Of course, it’s impossible to perfectly pass all the time because things come up about how your body works or how your mind works. Eventually, people often choose to disclose their disability or don’t have a choice and something becomes evident to other people.
And of course, there are disabilities that don’t fit neatly into this binary, no binary actually works well. There are people who, depending on the context — it may be very evident to others that they’re disabled or not very evident in a different context. Some people have both apparent disabilities and nonapparent disabilities. People who pass as nondisabled are somewhat less likely to face hostility, but they often deal with systemic barriers about the way that their school or workplace works and is just not made to work for their body. But then there’s a constant threat of outright hostility if you do disclose or are outed as disabled. There are also a lot of people who don’t actually think of themselves as disabled but could fall under the umbrella. I was in that category until a few years ago. I now think of myself as always having been disabled, but some of my disabilities come from a health condition that my mom had when I was in utero. So there’s never been a time when I was not disabled. But all of the medical professionals and my family were very invested in me being normal throughout my childhood.
Now I’m married to a disability justice community organizer, so I foiled the plans to make me think of myself as normal and nondisabled. So now I embrace disability identity but took until adulthood to get there to actually think of myself as disabled. I think there are a lot of archaeologists, especially who have some of the more common mental health disabilities like depression and anxiety or learning disabilities or chronic health conditions, who don’t necessarily think of themselves as disabled but are nonetheless targeted by ableist systems.
But then I agree with Rebecca-Eli that actually everyone is affected by disability and ableism. In archaeology, in my interviews, I heard a lot of stories about people in fieldwork specifically. There’s this very macho ableist culture. And so there’s pressure to keep up with the group and be able to do these difficult physical tasks that require a lot of strength and stamina. People often injure themselves trying to keep up. People actually become disabled because of the discipline’s culture of expecting people to be nondisabled and be so strong. Ironically that ends up creating disability because you’re not supposed to take your time and do things at your own pace. You’re supposed to keep up, and then people end up hurting themselves. This macho patriarchal culture is really intertwined with ableism and fieldwork. I think it hurts a lot of women and people with disabilities and people of any gender other than cis-men.
The discipline as a whole is hurt by ableism because by pushing disabled people out of archeological research, we lose disabled perspectives. It’s really important to have disabled people involved in research, especially when you’re studying disabled people. And all archaeologists are constantly studying disabled people. If you think about the span of human history that archaeologists study, there are disabled people in every society and large numbers of disabled people. Whether or not they think of themselves as disabled in any similar way to the construction in archeologists’ society is an open question, but we study people with all kinds of bodies and minds throughout history. So the disability rights slogan “Nothing about us without us” seems true. If disabled people aren’t involved in the interpretation, how can we possibly understand the lives of disabled people in the past? If our goal is to understand the lives of people in the past, it has to include disabled people in the present. It ends up shaping everyone’s experience in different ways.
Thanks so much for that. I want to follow up with that and ask if each of you could see what the unique challenges that ableism poses in anthropology compared to other academic disciplines and spaces are.
In archaeology specifically, I think the focus on fieldwork is a big problem. And it’s a problem in a lot of ways, not just ableism. Archaeological fieldwork has historically been very colonialist. The sexual violence that happens among archaeologists happens in the field context. Fieldwork is often unwelcoming to people who have care responsibilities for children or elders. We also have a curation crisis where archaeologists have been excavating so many objects for so many decades that now we don’t actually have sufficient facilities to keep excavating more stuff and actually curate it well. So maybe it is not great to just be continuing to keep the speed that we’re digging before we address that.
There’s this sense that people who don’t do fieldwork aren’t really doing archaeology, and there’s this privileging of fieldwork over lab work. That can be a big problem for disabled folks. I had so many different interviewees with all different kinds of visibility tell me that the lab was more accessible to them than the field. That is true for someone who has a mobility-related disability and uses crutches — a lot of field sites are very uneven terrain, and it involves hiking and climbing to get to them. So he has difficulty just navigating the field site. Archaeological field sites generally don’t conform to the Americans with Disabilities Act. And so there’s that sort of obvious piece.
I also had an archaeologist who was hard of hearing tell me that she had difficulty in the field because fieldwork can be so loud: there are lots of people using different tools, talking, and there’s environmental noise. She needs to be able to see people and read their lips when they’re talking to her, and in the field, it is very typical for someone to come up behind you and start asking you a question. She wouldn’t even realize that someone was talking to her with all this background noise until they were done with their question. Then she’d have to turn around and ask them to repeat it with her looking at them. Lab spaces are often quieter and more controlled, so that’s less likely to happen.
I also had an autistic interviewee tell me that the lab works better for her because it’s less sense really overwhelming. So that’s different from being hard of hearing but just having a sort of quieter space made it much easier for her to focus. Lab work is an essential part of archaeology. Why are we digging things up if we’re not going to study them and analyze them and write about them? And it’s a space where certain people are just more able to work well. And yet this emphasis on fieldwork, which just doesn’t work for a whole lot of different people with disabilities, is sort of seen as the golden standard of archaeology. And so that’s a sort of unique challenge that we have in archaeology.
This can be true across the subfields of anthropology as well. Obviously, everyone else on this call can speak about ethnographic fieldwork with more expertise than I have. A lot of bio archaeologists do fieldwork as well. So this emphasis on going out to the field, even if the fieldwork itself looks different, can often have a lot of access barriers. This prizing of going to the field as a rite of passage to becoming a real anthropologist is a real problem because there are actually lots of different ways to do anthropology, and we should all be able to both use the methods that best apply to our research questions, but also the methods that work best for us.
Similarly, I would identify fieldwork as a pretty unique barrier in ethnography as well and, speaking to some of the dynamics that Laura just pointed out around really valuing and prizing, a certain mode of fieldwork as the ideal way to do research. What was interesting for me was just how much I internalized that when planning my Ph.D. research. Even though I’m in a department that has a lot of anthropologists working within the US, within fairly local contexts, it was actually really difficult for me to feel confident doing fieldwork that looked very different than the standard Boasian model.
But in addition to fieldwork, something I’ve noticed, and I don’t know if it is entirely unique to cultural anthropology, we have a real disciplinary impulse towards criticality that sometimes furthers rather than addresses ableism. While anthropologists of all types and definitely ethnographers have tools for recognizing ableism in terms of recognized social structures and power relationships, I’ve noticed that in my experiences, this can be really misdirected. When it comes to ableism within classroom settings… I think there’s lots of space to be critical of our institutions and how they handle disability accommodations. That’s a process that generally does not work as well as people think it works. When it comes to anthropology professors, in particular, I’ve observed a pattern where people will be critical of these structures in a way that works to deny students accommodations. And so speaking autoethnographically, here I’ve had professors refer to disability accommodations as “neoliberal” or as surveillance or overreach in their teaching. And I think these come from really deep-seated disciplinary tendencies to want to be critical of our institutions. But this turns requests for access into a very intellectual exercise, rather than using this as a chance to address ableism and work alongside disabled students.
What kinds of efforts is higher education making to address ableism? What steps would be useful in continuing to address everyday ableism?
One thing I see becoming more popular on a few campuses is the idea of having a Disability Cultural Center alongside what campuses might offer in terms of an LGBTQ Center, or a Black Cultural Center, or other sorts of spaces that would bring disabled people to connect with each other. I think generally bringing disability into campus conversations about diversity is important and is a very different framing that people aren’t necessarily familiar with when it comes to disability. And of course, diversity and inclusion efforts often fall short.
I think critical disability studies programs are another really vital space for teaching people to recognize and challenge ableism both inside and outside of higher education.
Really, ableism is just so foundational to higher education that I think it would really take a radical abolitionist shift in what our universities look like to truly address everyday ableism in academia. In the meantime, of course, there are prefigurative politics and care work that can make a very meaningful difference on a smaller scale. I’m extremely grateful to academic mentors and friends who have been able to take on this work in various ways. From day-to-day emotional support and engaging advocacy on my behalf and finding ways to support disabled students and co-workers, while also learning how to recognize ableism and work to mitigate it, especially when it brings you up against institutional norms – I think it is a really important skill set for people in higher education to learn.
I absolutely agree with all of that. When thinking about what would be useful in continuing to address it, I wrote “Abolishing capitalism?” So I think that ableism is so deeply rooted in all of our structures, that it’s hard to imagine fully getting rid of it without enormous amounts of change. But then within the institutions that we have, there’s a lot to be done, just like Rebecca-Eli said. I absolutely agree about disability studies and Disability Cultural Centers being really essential in this work. I think that universities have a tendency to put disability just in the realm of student services, and specifically often just undergraduate student services. This is not to say that disability services that universities have are so great for undergrads, but that’s often where the only effort is being put. So the university will have a disability services office that provides accommodations to undergraduates, at least some of the time at least some accommodations to at least some students. This can be really complicated because students often require very specific kinds of documentation in order to prove that they have a certain type of disability, which can be very difficult and expensive to acquire. It’s certainly not perfect. I kept hearing from my interviewees that when they left their undergraduate education and became graduate students, the kinds of services that they had used to get from a disability services office were no longer sufficient to support them as they were sort of moving into being academic colleagues themselves. One of the PhD students I spoke to told me about how when she was still taking courses in her first couple of years of graduate school, she was able to get accommodations for her courses negotiated through the disability services office at her university. But then, when she started teaching, as a teaching assistant, she was unable to get any kind of accommodations for her teaching. And the Disability Services Office for Students said, “Well, we just help students, not teachers.” The person she was told to go to to talk about it said, “Well, I only work with faculty and you’re a graduate student.” So she got sort of stuck in between and unable to get any kind of support. And then it’s a big problem even for faculty and staff that accommodations are offered to students that are not offered to faculty and staff. Part of what we need to do is make clear that people don’t stop having disabilities when they graduate from undergrad. Students with disabilities don’t just leave higher education forever when they get an undergraduate degree. We’re still here in your departments, in your classrooms. So we need to be thinking about disability much more broadly than offering extra time on tests. As important as offering extra time on tests is, not all of us are taking tests. And so we just need a broader view beyond student services.
Mutual support, networking, and mentorship are where I see a lot of hope. We see this in the Society for Disability Studies, interdisciplinarily, we see this in anthropology. I see this in the Disability Research Interest Group of the American Anthropological Association. Within archaeology based in the UK, there’s the Enabled Archaeology Foundation, and then the Disabled Archaeologists Network, which I’ve been part of founding in the past year and a half, which is a sort of international network of disabled archaeologists, ranging from undergrads to senior scholars and working in all different kinds of contexts and with all kinds of disabilities. A lot of what I’ve been hearing from other folks involved in the Disabled Archaeologists Network is that a lot of disabled folks feel really isolated in their professional contexts in their workplaces or schools. These people are often the only person with a disability or the only person with their kind of disability. Getting together and finding people who have had similar experiences and being able to strategize together about how to approach things can be really helpful because it’s just exhausting to be feeling like you’re fighting this fight alone. And so having companionship and people to bounce ideas off of and learn from and strategize with is really exciting. One of our projects that’s coming up is set up some mentorship relationships. We’ve gathered information from our members about who would be interested in doing some mentoring and about what kinds of topics and who would be interested in receiving mentoring and about what kinds of topics so we’re going to be doing some pairing people together to help facilitate that sort of solidarity on the way is really essential.
What makes these resistance efforts successful? Alternatively, at what point have you noticed that these efforts may not have been as successful as intended?
I felt a little stumped by this at first because I think that a lot of the resistance to ableism happening in archaeology that’s organized on any scale seems pretty new. So it’s hard to say what’s successful yet. There are disabled archaeologists who have been working on these things individually for decades. But having sort of organized efforts is pretty new. But I’m seeing a lot of hope in some of these organized communities. And the hope I see is when people are working together and being creative and flexible. So an example is: I was part of a panel at the Society for American Archaeology meeting this year, we had to submit our abstract last September for a conference that was at the end of March-the beginning of April this year. So when we submitted this abstract, we went to a panel of disabled archaeologists talking about disability in archaeology and we didn’t know what the state of the pandemic would be in March and April at the time that we submitted the abstract. So we submitted it anyway. We had no idea if the conference would be in person or what would happen.
A lot of us on the panel were really dismayed when we realized that the Omicron wave was happening and the SAA just kept saying, “We’re going to meet in person, we’re going to meet in person.” Many of us thought, well, I can’t go to an in-person conference in a pandemic. Some folks were immunocompromised. Some of us, like I, have a child who is too young to get a vaccine. My partner had been willing to take care of our baby alone for a few days so that I could go to the conference, but it wasn’t workable for me to go to the conference and then come home and quarantine. That would be too long to make that work. And so there was a whole bunch of us who were saying: this is not safe and accessible to me. There were some people who were able to go and some people who weren’t. What we ended up doing was we video-recorded a panel discussion among almost all of us were able to get together in a Zoom Room. We had a two-hour time slot, and we recorded an hour-long panel discussion on Zoom. Then the people who were able to be there in person played the recording in the room for the first hour and then had an informal conversation with members of the audience about ableism in the discipline. And now we also have this video of this conversation that we’re thinking about what to do with it next. Hopefully, it can be shared with lots of people who weren’t able to be in Chicago at that time for that reason. So, just by the sort of lack of support for a fully hybrid event, we were able to use the resources that we had. One of the panelists had access to captioning services from her university because of her own disability and she was able to use it to get the video captioned. So we were able to all pool like, Okay, who can be there in person, who can be in a Zoom Room at a particular time. By pooling our resources, we were able to not just cancel the conversation about people because of the pandemic and the sort of structural ableism that leads to people insisting that we all get together in a room and breathe on each other despite the airborne pandemic and make it work. That solidarity with each other and focus on trying to find a way that everyone can participate safely and being creative with our resources – that’s the kind of initiative that I think will make the change.
Conferences are such a large site of academic ableism. But I did hear from one of my colleagues who was able to go to Chicago and who had excellent things to say about that panel. So it sounds like it was a great discussion, and I’m glad you were able to make it work.
I would say in the context of my research and thinking about connections with disability in higher education, the biggest form of resistance I found has absolutely been in forming disability communities. Like Laura said earlier in response to the previous question, higher education treats disability in a very individualizing way through these student support service offices. When these offices work, they are providing really important services. But they aren’t necessarily addressing systemic problems. In part, this is because of structures of privacy and protected health and student information. That can really make it challenging for disabled people in higher education to find each other and connect and share resources and do all of that great mutual aid work.
What I found is that being able to connect with people and experience what disability justice activist Mia Mingus terms “access intimacy,” even when it’s a temporary or very fleeting type of project or group or organizing effort, has been really important in some of my more recent dissertation research, when I’ve been able to collaborate and connect with autistic people. It has been a very powerful way to really think about how we’re challenging ableist structures of knowledge about autism, particularly those that say that autistic people don’t have any interest in social and emotional connections, which is very harmful to deny disabled people sociality on some very deep levels. Higher education even further individualizes disability. And so in thinking about the points where these efforts become maybe less successful, it’s when efforts of community building really just end up putting the burden of change back onto disabled people. Because these require time and energy. Higher education is a context where those are things disabled people often lack in part because we’re, [I’m] joking, but it’s because we’re doing all of that extended testing time keeping up our schedules.
And so, I think disabled people bring expertise into conversations about ableism.
It’s also really important to shift or more evenly distribute this labor, especially when it’s uncompensated labor off of disabled people and have nondisabled people who can act as accomplices and support these efforts.
Thank you so much for these very insightful answers. The next question that I wanted to ask you would be how does technology play into perpetuating or addressing ableism in anthropology and higher education, in your experience?
So as someone working in multimodal anthropology, there are a lot of critiques of technology and the technological fix that I think are really important. I also think technology can be something generative, generative of access, of affordances, of knowledge. In the context of the autistic self-advocacy movement, technology and the internet have been very crucial tools for connecting and sharing experiences. And this has also been a pretty similar thing for me when it comes to connecting with other disabled academics, forming various types of networks that are dispersed and maybe asynchronous, and letting people collaborate over distances.
I think the intersection of disability and technology is such an important one. And while technology can undoubtedly be very ableist, I think technology also really draws attention to how bodies are differently reliant on technology, especially when it’s coming from a crip technoscience-informed perspective.
In terms of knitting, I’d say knitting fits kind of uneasily in discussions of technology. But I do like to think of knitting as assistive technology in my case, in that it really facilitates and shapes how I interact with other people and process knowledge and what that really looks like in terms of neurodivergent research relations, where it’s so much easier to engage in knitting sort of as a technological way to connect with other people, to jumpstart conversations, and is a form of like shaping knowledge and also just of spending time where you’re thinking and processing knowledge. This sort of craft technology crip technoscience mode of ethnography has implications for thinking about ableism in higher education and well beyond that.
Yes, I really agree that technology is so intertwined with disability. It has real possibilities (when we think about crip technoscience), but when it’s viewed as a quick fix, it can be a real problem. For example, in the pandemic, all being so separate, the use of Zoom has made so many conversations able to happen in ways that they weren’t happening before. The Disabled Archaeologists Network didn’t exist until now. Part of that is that it suddenly became very obvious that you can just create a Zoom Room and send the link to people, and you could just get a whole lot of people together from across continents. So many people knowing how to use Zoom, so many people have access to it. It makes things possible. But then I’ve really seen captioning as an interesting example. Now automated captioning is much more available than it was even a few years ago. When I did my dissertation interviews as a way of speeding up the transcription process, I used an automatic captioning service to take these digital recordings and make these transcript files, I then had to edit them very heavily in order to make them useful. It was still faster than transcribing myself and I didn’t have a grant to cover transcription. I was able to get a very small grant from my university that was able to cover that, and people hadn’t heard of this. This was like new and exciting, and you know, 2017. Now people often are turning on automatic captions on their webinars and Zoom meetings. And it’s cool that those are available and they’re getting better, but there’s still not a substitute for a live transcript by a human professional transcriptionist, especially when you’re using it when there are people with different accents, or speaking different languages or using technical jargon. The automatic captions are really terrible often and are not able to adequately create access. So when we actually think about the access needs that people have and figure out what resources we have that can meet those needs, that can be part of the tools that we have. But when we think that we can use technology to fix the problem where there’s someone who needs captioning and we just turn on the captions and think we are done, often we end up reinforcing ableism when that is insufficient for actually creating access. I think when we approach using technology with a sense of creativity and flexibility and commitment to doing the best we can to make our communities accessible, technology can be really powerful. When we view it as “these burdensome disabled people are just demanding that I do something, I guess I’ll turn on automatic captions and check that box and be done with it,” then that’s not creating access in a meaningful way. To me, it’s about the attitudes with which we use technology. Technology itself is just a tool that can be used for either making change, making access, creating community or just reinforcing oppressive systems.
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