Cripping the City

Cripping the City is a forum for undergraduate work in my undergraduate course, "Disability and Sexuality in American Culture." Specifically, this blog includes my students' work on a collaborative assignment called "The Accessible Date." The assignment, which is included below, is meant to help students think through their relationship to the built environment and issues of accessibility in a critical way.

What is the Accessible Date Assignment?

You must venture out into your surrounding area and plan an imaginary date for you and a wheelchair-using companion. You MUST travel with your partner(s); do NOT venture out alone! For this assignment, you are required to use only public transportation to travel through the city, and your date must include the following: a meal, some kind of entertainment and plans for some privacy (Be creative! You're wooing someone!) You should chronicle your trip with a co-authored 2-3 page reflection on your journey. This narrative must also include a multimedia component to illustrate your trip. Multimedia might include digital or cell phone photography, video, screenshots of webpages, sound recordings, brochures or annotated city maps. Be sure to document, both in your essay and multimedia, inaccessible spaces as well as accessible ones as you explore your surroundings. If you require any form of accommodation to complete or submit this assignment, please discuss them with me, and we will make individual arrangements.

Pedagogical Goals

How are spaces constructed with ideas about the "normal" or "average" body in mind? How do sexual politics infuse the built environment, and how might critical studies of sexuality offer different ways of conceptualizing "access?" How "public" is public space, and how do notions of public and private construct sexual norms? As opposed to controversial "simulation" assignments, this assignment does not presume that nondisabled students can intimately "experience" or understand disability simply by wearing a blindfold for an hour or by using a wheelchair for a day. Disability simulation risks making most participants feel pity for people who live with disabilities rather than acknowledging disability as a rich and diverse set of experiences--not all of which revolve around impairment. It also risks giving participants the idea that barriers disabled people face in society are a "natural" byproduct of impairment rather than a reality produced by inaccessible spaces and social stigma. This assignment endeavors to cultivate a "critically queer and severely disabled" perspective by immersing students in the many exclusions of the public spaces in which they live, work and play. In this way, students can better grasp disability rights struggles for access to public spaces. Finally, the assignment utilizes new media approaches to political activism and scholarly production, giving students an alternative medium in which to express their ideas and creativity.