A Disabled Black Flower-Seller Carts his Wares Through Town
England (c. 1790)
Hand-coloured stipple engraving on paper
This print shows a black flower-seller carting his wares through a
British town. It is not possible to tell whether this print was based on
a real person, or is an imaginary scene. However, there were
significant numbers of black people in many British towns, particularly
London and other ports, such as Liverpool and Bristol, by the end of the
18th century, so a scene like this would not have been uncommon. This
man is shown earning his living from selling flowers. His wooden (peg)
legs suggest that he may previously have been a sailor. The loss of
one’s legs was then an occupational hazard in the navy, when sea fights
were mostly duels between cannon-laden, timber-built warships. Many
black men served in the British navy in the 18th century.
Many people are not aware that Harriet [Tubman] was a disabled person (this
has been “conveniently” omitted in our already skewed history books).
She sustained a severe head injury as a teenager while protecting
another slave. Due to this injury, she developed symptoms that are
described to be temporal lobe epilepsy and narcolepsy. It was not until I
began to study disability history and Black disability history that I
learned that Harriet was like me – disabled. Underground has
managed to do what few slave narratives have – portray disability in
general, and to do so in a light that was not tragedy or inspirational
porn leaning. We tend to “forget” that disabled people have always been
here, and that there were indeed disabled slaves. In my advocacy work,
I make it a priority to discuss disability and slavery when I explain
the triple jeopardy status of Black disabled women.
Why do I do this? Disabled slave experiences matter. We
cannot have a full discussion about the dehumanization of Black bodies
and chattel slavery in America if we do not recognize how Black disabled
bodies were also disregarded, abused, and exploited by slave owners.
The International Congress on Medieval Studies is an annual gathering of
around 3,000 scholars interested in medieval studies. The congress
features around 575 sessions of papers, panel discussions, roundtables,
workshops and performances. There are also some 100 business meetings
and receptions sponsored by learned societies, associations and
institutions. The exhibits hall boasts nearly 70 exhibitors, including
publishers, used book dealers and purveyors of medieval sundries. The
congress lasts three and a half days, extending from Thursday morning,
with sessions beginning at 10 a.m., until Sunday at noon.
Almost everyone I have academic discourse with on any platform always asks me if I plan to go.
Every year, the answer is no. And it’s not because I don’t WANT to. I very, very much DO.
I can’t go because I’m disabled. And all reports have indicated that this conference is not accessible for someone with my particular set of abilities. I most likely would even be unable to physically access the spaces. And I don’t care to humiliate myself and have to personally overshare and disclose, because I’m a “Special case” and I should be grateful for whatever crumbs they’re willing to toss my way to allow me, PERSONALLY, to attend. As if I care to do so when other disabled people cannot. As if I care to do so being followed by jerks begging for cookies at how “accessible” they made the thing just for ME. I’m missing out on just about everything this discipline might have to
offer: opportunities, collaborations, discourse with other specialists
and consultants, and they are also missing out on the perspective that I
have to offer.
Because I’m disabled. And somehow, this is my personal problem, as if this conflict, this issue, resides firmly in my non-normative body and not in the institutions and individuals that reject the concept of anyone outside of a strict set of parameters or “expected” ability levels being interested or able to participate in such an event.
And I’m not even going to start on the intersectional clusterf*ck of, “but, you’re not even in disability studies, you talk about RACE!” because of course all disabled people are white by default, right? *eyeroll*
The inaccessibility of these types of events send a very clear message: Someone “like me” could not possibly have anything worthwhile to contribute to their event.
If they can do it, so can others. So can everyone. HIRE AN ACCESSIBILITY CONSULTANT FOR YOUR EVENTS. Create spaces for marginalized people of all kinds, including people of color, gay, queer and/or trans people, variously disabled people, and those who cannot afford the hidden financial costs of attending such events. I’ve had too many sickening bellysful of disingenuous, simpering “How do we get more DIVERSITY at our thingy-thing??” questions slung about on social media, expecting FREE LABOR FROM THE VERY PEOPLE who you are ACTIVELY PREVENTING FROM ATTENDING YOUR EVENTS.
[Image: tweet by Titanium Cranium (@FelicityTC) including three screenshots of a Harry potter book in three different formats on Amazon. Text:
“Harry Potter on Amazon –
So, let me explain this a bit.
The defenders of CripTax prices will say that those prices cover the cost of production. This is, without a doubt, true. I work at a university where we often have to take written materials and convert them into braille – it takes a LOT of people hours, special software, and a braille embosser.
But those defenders of higher prices are reversing the argument to justify fleecing disabled readers.
What do I mean by that?
Braille is not magic. It is done by taking plain text and feeding it through fairly affordable translation software, creating a document that can easily be printed in braille.
All that time and effort and special software? IS NOT FOR THE BRAILLE.
It is to take the document provided by the publisher (usually in PDF format, the same file they send to the printers) and turn it into plain, unadorned text, by hand. Text has to be “stripped” (OCR/text recognition); images have to be described; footnotes have to be embedded; special pullouts and other formatting shifted or removed.
Printing in braille is cheap; reverse engineering a finished text to print it in braille IS NOT.
Same with those audio books. After a book is completed and, often, after it has already been published, the publisher arranges to have the book recorded by a professional voice actor/reader, which usually also involves a recording producer, if not a recording studio, which all stacks up to $$, no two ways about it.
However: that cost? IS RARELY FACTORED INTO THE BUDGET OF PRINTING A BOOK.
Oh, it might be, if the author is JK Rowling and it is well known that readers will want audio versions right away. But most of the time, nope, the audio book is produced only after the hard copy book has become a decent seller, and so it’s an extra cost which is claimed must be covered by making the audio version extra expensive to buy. (Even then it’s somewhat ridiculous, since honestly, creating an audio book is, in the end, cheaper than printing, factoring in the cost of paper.)
If publishers factored audio book production into the assumed costs of publishing a book, they would have very little reason to price it higher.
If publishers factored in creating a “plain text” file – including having editors/authors describe images – that could be used to print braille copies or to be used with refreshable braille readers (electronic pinboards, basically), then there would be zero reason to price those books higher.
tl;dr: Yes, it’s a #criptax, and the excuse that “those formats are more expensive to produce so they have to be priced higher” is only true if you completely throw out the premise that publishers have an obligation to account for disabled readers when they are actually budgeting for and publishing the book.
I’m really glad you brought this up, because this is exactly the sort of argument thatpeople try to use to justify inaccessibility in all kinds of areas. When we tell a company that their website or appliance or piece of technology isn’t accessible, they frequently tell us that they are sorry to hear that but that the accessibility is too expensive and time-consuming to add in now. There is also a provision in the law that allows companies to not bother including accessibility in their products if the cost of building in the accessibility is more than 5% of the total cost to build the whole product in the US.
That seems reasonable on the surface, doesn’t it? Except here’s the thing—the accessibility should have been a part of the original plans to begin with and designed in from the very beginning and should have been considered a necessary element and just another ordinary part of the cost of producing the product, not some extra feature that can be opted out of if it’s too expensive. The problem is that these companies do not understand the fact that if you cannot afford to build the product with the accessibility included, then you cannot afford to build the product and that is that. It’s exactly the same as not being able to afford to make the product with all elements up to safety and health codes and standards. If you can’t afford to meet the legal standards, then you can’t afford to make the product, and it’s that simple. Accessibility is not an exception to this and it should not be considered as such. It should be just as much an ordinary required part of the design process as any other element, not an extra, shiny, fancy feature that you can just choose not to bother with if it costs a little bit of money.
Accessibility should be part of the standard design process just as much as safety codes and health standards and other legal regulations. The ADA has existed for 20 years so companies have had ample time to catch up and learn to plan for accessibility from the beginning as a part of the standard required design process. If you can’t afford to create the product fully up to code, standards, and accessibility laws, then you simply can’t afford to make the product. No excuses, no exceptions.
Thanks for this awesomely informative post; this is precisely what I used to do for a living, in a college environment. People were often surprised that this work was not somehow already done by the publishing companies, but nope. My department did it all by hand, more or less. From scanning, to creating PDFs, to OCR text extraction, to formatting the files for JAWS, to making the corrections and image descriptions.
The thing is, college textbooks are so image heavy, compartmentalized, and splashed with text boxes on every page, with increasingly convoluted diagrams that sometimes take up multiple pages, I was basically *writing* half the textbook myself. Basically, you have to take an image like this diagram (which might be in a book, or part of a handout, or be embedded in an inaccessible online module, or part of a video lecture, or maybe it’s part of a powerpoint or slideshow):
and figure out how to describe every bit of pertinent information that is happening visually, decide in what order to present that information, and do it in a way that doesn’t make the student just decide to give up because holy crap, right??
And this part is *just* the textbook. I did this for all class materials-in all topics, in all formats, for every teacher, in every discipline. everything from astronomy, world history, american history, economics, biology, literature, art history, history of modern philosophy, poetry, and even a few things for extracurricular and clubs.
And you know what? A lot of the time professors would seem to think they’re doing everyone some kind of favor by giving us the books and materials like, the DAY before class starts. Or, y’know, sometimes like a week AFTER.
There’s a reason I decided to become staff in Disability Services rather than a professor as I’d originally intended-I was a disabled student too, and I wanted to do my best to prevent others from having to fight like I had to fight. I started out with like 5 people working under me to get the stuff scanned and processed and I was doing the final corrections, formatting, and image/diagram descriptions; by the time it was nearing its end it was just me literally flopping books on a scanner with one hand and typing with my fingers and wrist with the other.
They eliminated my department like 2 years ago, and I got laid off. **there’s** your “commitment” to accessibility in higher education.
That’s how the sausage gets made, my friends….and in this case, how it doesn’t.