Accessibility

Access is a way of inhabiting the world.
An image I took during the Society for Disability Studies conference in Minneapolis, June 2014. It shows part of a walking bridge against a cloudy sky and in the distance, out of focus, a church. There are capital, serif-font letters on a thin overhead railing: "And then it got very cool."

An image I took during the Society for Disability Studies conference in Minneapolis, June 2014. It shows part of a walking bridge against a cloudy sky and in the distance, out of focus, a church. There are capital, serif-font letters on a thin overhead railing: “And then it got very cool.”

Lately I have been thinking about why accusations of inaccessibility sting so much. Part of it is that we in disability studies are deeply committed to making access possible when it’s usually an after-thought if a meaningful thought at all. We know that striving for access means bringing into focus aspects of our interactions that parade as invisible or unnecessary when they are in fact crucial for us to do what we want to do.
But part of the sting of inaccessibility is thinking that you could have done it right. Because you’re not there yet. Because you haven’t passed the threshold just yet, not yet beknighted by some celestial accessibility deity that will always vindicate your good work. There is this ever-present fear that you don’t have the right paperwork.
Using this website as an object lesson, I’d like to register the first kind of concern but dispense with the second. It seems to me that what I wish I could say of this website (that it’s been approved by the right people and I can breathe a sigh of relief) is misguided if accessibility has the weight I think it does. Perhaps owing to a litigious neoliberal reign of compliance and liability (another face of which doubles back to blame people with disabilities for being their own burden to protect property owners who claim they can’t keep up with accessibility legislation), my want to feel complete about this site’s access overshadows the truer nature of accessibility.
An image I took in the city of brotherly love. It shows the bottom of a boarded-up store front, just above the sidewalk. In capital white letters, words stacked on one another: "MORE LOVE MORE LOVE MORE LOVE."

An image I took in the city of brotherly love. It shows the bottom of a boarded-up store front, just above the sidewalk. In capital white letters, words stacked on one another: “MORE LOVE MORE LOVE MORE LOVE.”

Accessibility is less a checklist than an interface, less a set of tools than a system, less a badge than a mode of relations. Thus, feeling confident that you’ve “achieved” access might be the clearest indication that you’ve fallen short. Access, for me a metric in the success of my teaching and my research, is an unfolding interrogation. Like an asymptotic line approaching its axis, we can move closer to access in clear ways but perhaps never sense it as a complete entity.
That access is hard to do is not an excuse to be cavalier about it; precisely the opposite. But I register the many difficulties in realizing access to signal my openness to change.
I do not know how accessible this website is, but I have tried to do certain things in the hope that I can make it easier for some people to navigate. All text appears in containers that screen readers can identify and I have attached alt-text descriptions to all images I use. There is no sound on this site and I have captioned the sound I use in the media I link to.
What am I missing? How can I make this site more accessible to you? Please tell me: kgotkin@asc.upenn.edu