30 April 2012

BADD 2012: Toppliing Transactionalism

"Happy Birthday Vivian?" I ask. "Why would anyone put up a poster like that?"
"Vivian?" the response is somewhat incredulous. "What are you talking about?"
I point through the windshield. She follows my finger and stares. Then, because, well, we've been together a long time, "Oh no," she laughs, "those are candles! not letters, birthday candles!"

Ahh, the entertaining world of dyslexia.

Less entertaining might be a few recent wheelchair experiences. A DoubleTree Hotel (slogan: "cookies instead of service") in Roanoke, Virginia with no curb cuts near entrances, unnavigable ramps which changed slope suddenly, and a stage for me to speak from which prevented any physical interaction with those who had come to hear me speak. Or, sitting at the freezing cold plane ends of jetbridges because Rahm Emanuel's City of Chicago can't be bothered with timely responses to wheelchair requests at O'Hare Airport. Or, whether a restaurant in Roanoke or Michigan State University's campus police station, facilities whose "accessible" doorways feature thresholds so high and steeply cut that wheelchairs become stuck - if you're lucky - or you get tossed to the ground - if you're not.

But equally less entertaining are the millions of classrooms in which student movement is considered a problem. The millions of classrooms without student seating choices. The millions of classrooms without Text-To-Speech and Speech-To-Text routinely available. The millions of classrooms where cultural diversity in learning is sacrificed to the corporatism of the "Common Core."

And, I suppose, particularly less entertaining are the many places, from schools, to restaurants, to education PhD programs, where people with "disabilities" have to declare themselves pathologically damaged and beg for help in order to be allowed to pretend to function like "normal humans."

I believe in "Transactional Disability," a spin on Tom Shakespeare's great work linking the social and physical models of disability. To me, there is no actual "disability," there is only "able" and "unable," which are sometimes stable, but more often a constantly changing state of affairs - based on age, health, sleep patterns, energy levels, weather, the day of the week. "My ability to walk has been rapidly improving since my last surgery, but last Thursday the pain was really beyond my tolerance." "I thought I was reading pretty well Sunday, but when we got to the restaurant, and the menu was in ALL CAPS, I couldn't read anything."

"Able" equals, I can take care of it myself. "Unable" means I need help or tools. Those are basic human conditions, and no one should ever require a special permit, or a costly medical examination, or distinct permissions, to use the tools, or get the assistance, they, as equal children of God, need to function in their lives.

Whether you choose to take an elevator instead of the stairs, or you need to put on eyeglasses,
or you need to listen to text instead of "reading" (text-decoding) it - or watching
a video, or whatever... is a personal decision, not a societal prescription
The difference between "ability" and "inability" lies in the "transaction space." And "transaction space" is an ever-changing location. My living room is a different "transaction space" today than it was two months ago. The room, of course, is much the same, but where I can go in it, and where I am willing to go, are very different. The same classroom which may be fine for the "average," compliant, calm person, may be a nightmare for me. As I often say, the story of my friend Melissa and her son represents this perfectly: In the daytime, crossing a street, he is "visually impaired," and needs a cane and often assistance. But at night, as they walk around the lake, he is able to navigate perfectly, while she needs a flashlight/torch and often assistance.

A film is the easiest of transaction spaces for me to navigate in terms of literature, a print-on-paper book is the most difficult. A three-story high urban chain-link fence was a fine transaction space for me when my PF Flyers fit easily between the wires, now it would be an impossible barrier. I will never be able to reach the top shelf in the supermarket without some tool or strategy - that transaction space becomes otherwise impossible.

(Above and Below): fence... book... paths or barriers?
Now, Transactionalism arrives when someone, often someone in power, decides that their tools are fine but yours or mine are not. There was the Michigan State professor, wearer of thick eyeglasses, who drove five miles to work each day instead of walking, who often took the elevator between the third and fifth floors, but who thought I needed a $500 psychological assessment, and five dozen forms filled out, if I was going to use  text reader. There are the schools with impossible wheelchair ramps run by principals with reserved parking spaces up front so that they lose less time coming and going. There are politicians who use drivers for "convenience" and efficiency who run airports and transit systems that make life for wheelchair users close to impossible.

I see teachers and principals who use digital mail, messaging, and calendars all day but who operate in schools where students are not allowed to choose the same tools. I see students blocked from using school elevators so that students must declare their "inability" loudly if walking stairs is very hard one day. I see students denied the right to stand through class times by teachers who have the choice to stand or sit.

Which is all so very, very wrong. Without qualifiers. Without excuses.

Transactionalism is an evil. It must be confronted everywhere, every day. Until Transactionalism is toppled, "the disabled" will always live with identities crafted by others, and equality will always in unattainable.

- Ira Socol on Blogging Against Disablism Day 2012


The Goldfish said...

This is absolutely brilliant, as ever, Ira. And I saw "Vivian" before I saw the candles. :-)

GirlWithTheCane said...

I saw "Vivian" too.

I've never heard of transactionalism, but it makes perfect sense to me. I was especially struck by your point about all the digital organizing tools that professors use, that aren't available to students...it's never occurred to me that maybe I did't ever use the daybooks that my school gave me each year because maybe daybooks just don't work for me, not because there's something wrong with me (I still hate daybooks...)

Lots of great stuff in this post. Thank you.