- The Voice of Disability, Seminar Series, Centre for Culture and Disability Studies, Liverpool Hope University
Between October 2014 and June 2015, Liverpool Hope University hosted the second part of a seminar series from the Centre of Culture and Disability Studies (CCDS).1 The series was organised and chaired by Director of the CCDS, David Bolt. Eight eclectic presentations continued the series theme, the Voice of Disability, with reference to various forms of creative art, policy, and legislation.
Julia Miele Rodas (Bronx Community College/CUNY, USA) began this part of the series with her seminar “Litany, Utopia and Literary Autism.” She made an argument for reframing the devalued autistic practices of re-enactment, ordering, and patterning as productive and creative rather than mechanistic, meaningless, or psychopathological. She drew on evidence from religious and literary texts, including formal poetry and utopian fiction, and numerous other artefacts including Islamic mosaic and museum exhibits, to illustrate the ways in which familiar and highly culturally valued artforms rely on systematizing and symbolic patterning to express meaning. She reached the intriguing conclusion that such artforms exhibit a fundamentally autistic aesthetic, highlighting the paradox of cultures which simultaneously revere and denigrate “autistic” artefacts.
Jessica Chong (Liverpool Hope University, UK) gave the second seminar in this part of the series, entitled “Discourses, Decisions, Designs: An International Comparative Analysis of ‘Special’ Educational Policy Making.” She investigated influential discourses affecting educational policymaking in New South Wales, Scotland, Finland, and Malaysia when conceptualizing the aims and structure of student support services. Her findings revealed that policies inspired by a neoliberal performative agenda create a competitive and selective education system that works in opposition to the inclusion [End Page 357] agenda, resulting in the segregation of many students who are deemed to have not met proficiency targets. She concluded that while policy variations had led to differing outcomes in the four countries investigated, Finnish and Scottish public schooling has demonstrated a “more” inclusive approach to education governance that is conducive to the achievement of both excellence and equity.
In her seminar “It’s Not Gibberish: ‘Disabled’ Voices in Literature for Young People,” Chloe Hughes (Western Oregon University, USA) considered how teachers might use recently published literature for young people that contains both overt and subtle messages about disability, identity, and stereotypes to promote inclusion in classrooms. Noting that young people learn to read the world through books in which disability is often represented in negative ways, she critiqued the “good intentions but appalling lessons” inherent in many such texts. Examples included the reinforcing of the charity and tragedy models and the hierarchy of disability, and the ableist “microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations” contained in the interactions between characters. She highlighted the potential for literature to promote inclusion through relationship building and reducing social distance and stigma, and also the need for more and better texts for young people to enable this potential to be realised.
In “It Must Be Simple: The Supreme Fiction at the Core of the Backlash to Access Debate,” David Feeney (Liverpool Hope University, UK) asserted that the voice of disability has largely been absent in both museum and gallery consultations and the wider debate around access and inclusion, resulting in a misdirected and misguided discourse. As a counter to those who interpret the ‘inevitable’ simplification of complex ideas and artworks within access programmes as a regrettable compromising of traditional art values, he defended the value of exploring what we do not understand, and of different ways of arriving at empathetic understanding of art. He told the audience about the “waves of difficulty” he experienced as a fully sighted researcher of blindness, including complex power dynamics with participants, while also finding space for some tantalising asides about the nature of walking as both an artform and a research method.
Mathilde Pavis and Kate Marsh (Coventry University, UK) drew attention to dance, with its tradition of a specific body, as a normative environment, using this foundation to examine the intersection of dance, disability, and law. Their seminar, “Authorship and the Voice of Disability in Dance,” drew on the work of Petra Kuppers, and echoed Feeney, in contending that the voice of disability needed to be louder within the...