Blogging Against Disablism Day: Ableism, Academia & Science Fiction

Friday, 01 May 2015 14:13

Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day (or BADD for short), and this is my first year participating. For those of you new to my blog and my work, when I’m not running Academic Editing Canada, I’m busy with my independent scholarship in disability studies and science fiction. I recently wrote a post about my disability identification, “Fragments: Disability, Community, and Me,” if you’re curious, and many of the posts on this blog deal with my reflections on being a chronically-ill graduate student, and how that experience informs my research today. I also edit science fiction (SF), and I want to mention some good news right away— because I’m super proud of it—that Accessing the Future, an anthology of disability-themed speculative fiction stories that I co-edited with Djibril al-Ayad, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly!

There are many things that I could write about when it comes to my experiences of ableism, but I thought I’d share some of my observations as an independent scholar invested in bringing disability studies into science fiction studies. At the moment, I am frustrated with the genre academic community's engagement with disability—it is still such a marginalized conversation outside the handful of us who work at this intersection (mostly grad students and recent PhDs).

There are many oversights and microagressions I have witnessed or encountered in my role as scholar and writing about them in any specific detail feels unsafe and “unprofessional.” I know that this is ableism at work. I can say that I have felt devalued in my interactions with a few journal editors. I have made requests for accommodation on presentation times that were entirely ignored. And I’ve had to withdraw an accepted paper at a conference because its scheduling was so mishandled. These are just a few incidences that have affected my ability to fully participate, and I have heard many, many more examples of ableism from my disabled academic friends and peers. It is extremely common to hear, for example, in all kinds of academic and casual conversations, professors using ableist language, like “lame” and “crazy,” to describe unpopular or unusual ideas and people. This language hurts.

Articles addressing disability in any meaningful way are infrequent finds in genre journals—and, if they do appear, most of them are locked behind paywalls where I (and everyone else who lacks access to university journal databases) cannot read them. While I appreciate the difficulty of scheduling large, multi-track conferences, it is frustrating that the few papers about disability are often placed on panels about “otherness” or monstrosity (this has happened twice to me). It seems that genre conferences do not know where to effectively place a disability studies paper and this is a problem. It makes talking about disability in a sustained, critical way (that intersects with feminist, queer, anti-racist, and such other important concerns) that much more difficult.

While Disability Studies is becoming less marginalized in science fiction studies, there is a long way to go for it to move from a momentarily interesting “hot topic” to an actually active and engaged conversation that does not rely on a small handful of people to constantly bring it up. Since I started presenting on disability in SF at conferences (though I am not able to attend more than one or two a year I do follow what’s going on online), I have learned just how new and marginal disability studies is in the academic genre community. For example, the Science Fiction Research Association’s annual conference theme this year is “The SF We Don't (Usually) See: Suppressed Histories, Liminal Voices, Emerging Media.” Although many axes of identification were included in the original call for papers (CFP), there was no mention of disability! It took the wonderful Ria Cheyne to point out its absence before “disability and ability” were added to the CFP. Furthermore, there are no papers, from what I can tell from their conference program, that directly address disability. This is an all too common scenario that I have seen played out too many times.

Additionally, in a practical sense, there needs to be more people talking about disability and calling out ableism because so little is actually happening to improve the working conditions for a countless number of disabled graduate students, adjunct/sessional and tenured faculty, and administrative staff. Just check out some of the stories on PhDisabled (which is an amazing resource for disability recognition and advocacy). Conference organizers need to work harder in ensuring that their venues are fully accessible and in developing clear policies around accommodations for people with disabilities. Journals need to be open access and available on a variety of platforms.

I can’t speak to how other academics are trained in graduate school, but I know that for me, the process of interrogating cultural truths was held up as a foundational goal. I also know that when I see an absence of knowledge, especially one that causes or reinforces existing harm, I feel an obligation to speak up and say, “this is something we need to be talking about.” This is how I feel about the representation of disability in science fiction. There are very few popular SF texts that show realistic depictions of disability, whether it be physical or cognitive disability, chronic illness, or neurodiversity. It is a niche topic in terms of academic study but literature and film (and all media) show us what is and what is not possible. SF is an important place where cultural producers and consumers think through what kinds of lives matter and who gets to take part in creating the future world. I believe that genre scholars have a responsibility to meaningfully and significantly engage with disability—both theoretically and practically—sooner than later.

6 comments

  • Comment Link Kathryn Sunday, 03 May 2015 12:44 posted by Kathryn

    @DavidG
    It is very frustrating to see (not only with the SFRA) the majority of editors/conference organizers leave disability off of their CFPs until someone, if anyone, mentions it. In fact, just this morning, I received another CFP for a SF panel at a major conference that excludes disability on its list of potential topics.

    SF scholars have been welcoming to me in terms of hearing about my work, but disability studies is not yet an approach that is raised without one of the handful of us (and we're mostly a group of grad students and new PhDs) doing so. It's one of those situations where it's not an overtly hostile environment to work in but an exhausting one.

    Great link and question! I don't have the answers to it and I reckon that there are more posts (from myself and others) on this topic in the future.

    This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
  • Comment Link Kathryn Sunday, 03 May 2015 12:32 posted by Kathryn

    @Penny
    Thanks for the kind words and the link to your previous post!

    This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
  • Comment Link Kathryn Sunday, 03 May 2015 12:30 posted by Kathryn

    @NTE Thank you for the welcome into the BADD community. I've really enjoyed reading all of the posts from the day--we've so much to share as a community! There is definitely so many ways for us to read (with) disability in all genres. We need more people doing this work (and making it accessible). Accessing the Future will be available July 1 from all online sellers.

    This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
  • Comment Link DavidG Saturday, 02 May 2015 15:54 posted by DavidG

    Good, if worrying piece. The dull thudding is me *headdesk*ing over the SFRA omitting disability from their CFP, never mind all the We Need Diverse Books activities going on around them. And popping up on the WNDB twitter feed from Ria Cheyne yesterday was a link to a really interesting paper on the absense of disability from the major early reader books in the UK, which resonated with your piece: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/Sct2pdq8uK4i3I9IWIG8/full Are we teaching people to exclude disability from literature right from the moment they start to read?

    This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
  • Comment Link Penny Friday, 01 May 2015 18:45 posted by Penny

    One of my favorites so far today, thank you! I had a tiny post about disability and SF for BADD in 2010:
    http://disstud.blogspot.com/2010/05/badd-it-will-be-interesting.html

    This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
  • Comment Link NTE Friday, 01 May 2015 15:48 posted by NTE

    Wow: Great post! I'm super interested in that anthology... I'll have to track down a copy. I did my masters on portrayal of disability in picture books (and other assorted things), so I'm always interested in how other forms of fiction come at disability, or don't, as the case may be. Good luck with your work, and welcome to the BADD community!

    This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Add comment


You are here: Kathryn Allan's Blog Blogging Against Disablism Day: Ableism, Academia & Science Fiction

Editing Service Rates

For all projects, a quote will be based on a negotiated hourly rate.

Hourly Rate starts at $45/hour (and up).

Based on project length, time-frame for return, and difficulty, we will propose an hourly work rate and estimated overall project cost. Generally, the longer the time frame, the lower the quote.

Every client is given the fairest rate possible for their particular editing needs.

Getting a Quote

To provide you with a cost estimate for your project, please provide the following:

(1) The length of the project.

(2) When you require the work returned to you.

(3) What kind of editing you need (i.e., work on grammar & word choice or more intensive structural considerations).

(4) Small sample (5-10 pages) of work to be edited.

Payment Options

We strongly prefer that clients make credit card/funds payment through PayPal or e-transfer.

Please discuss any alternative methods of payment before work begins.

Academic Honesty

We do not write essays or cover letters for clients. Our goal is to improve your ability to effectively communicate your own ideas.

We adhere to all formal citation guidelines relevant to your discipline (MLA, APA, Chicago, Harvard, etc.).