'Disabled’ is a Verb: Reimagining the Purposes of Accessibility

This presentation by Bethan Tovey-Walsh of CorCenCC/Swansea University, was part of the NISO Humanities Roundtable Building Diversity, Building Accessibility, Building Better. Bethan offered this as the abstract for her talk:

We tend to think of ‘disabled’ as an adjective: an attribute of individuals. The disabled person has a body which is somehow limited in its capacity or functioning. Accessibility is therefore often conceptualized as a way of mitigating the inherent limitations of the disabled body.

However, for the past few decades, groups of disability theorist-activists have challenged us to think of disability as a product of the body in context, rather than as an inalienable attribute. In their understanding, individuals with impairments are disabled by interaction with situations or objects which fail to allow for their needs. This invites a re-imagination of accessibility as the provision of content that does not disable its users.

This talk will introduce examples of the treatment of specific impairments in law and in practice, to illustrate the usefulness of understanding ‘disabled’ as a verb. We will then consider how the process of disablement may be affected by intersecting characteristics (such as gender, wealth, age, and country of residence) and how these, too, must be factored into design for accessibility.

I hope to leave you with a richer understanding of what it means to produce accessible content, and why it matters that we do so.

Watch the Video: