2006 Conference General Sessions

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Ellen Perlow
Doctoral Candidate, Department of Health Studies, Texas Woman's University
P.O. Box 424244
Denton TX 76204-4244
Day Phone: 940-484-2770
Email: eperlow@hotmail.com

Self-identifying adults with accessibility needs are invited to participate in IRB-approved dissertation research to evaluate American English accessibility-related descriptors.  Informed consent and alternative formats provided.

An individual with accessibility needs, the presenter cordially invites fellow self-identifying adult members of the class attending CSUN 2006 to participate in Institutional Review Board [IRB]-approved dissertation research. Alternative formats are provided. The time frame required for participation is approximately 30 minutes.

This accessibility research study explores the preferences and perceptions of people with accessibility needs concerning American English accessibility-related descriptors, particularly in terms of the positively or negatively defined quality of the terminology. Upon informed consent, participants are requested to rate lists of both researcher and self-selected accessibility-related descriptors, and to contribute model attitudinal survey instrument items that reflect member-of-the-class descriptor preferences.  By examining how language shapes perceptions, attitudes, and outcomes, this study seeks to promote the self-empowerment of people with accessibility needs to define the terms of our own reality, culture, and discourse.

This evaluative investigation of class descriptors by and for members of the class is especially timely and crucial.

- Descriptor designation or the act of naming is a powerful worldwide, cross-cultural phenomenon (Miller, 1927; Supalla, 1992, xiii).

- The medium of language fulfills the human desire to communicate, to understand, to put ourselves in some mutual, reciprocal form of contact with one another? In our society, representation matters? (B
b1996, 248, 260).

- language is a primary means of communicating attitudes, thoughts, and feelings? (Blaska, 1993, 27, quoting Froschl, et al., 1984, 20).

- Language and discourse have the power to shape reality (Bond, 2005) and the course of human survival (Hayakawa, 1964, 328).

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (FEMA, 2005) is just one example of the degree to which language and discourse and lack thereof have had a major impact on the reality and survival of people with accessibility needs.
Despite being a large minority of communities? Citizenry (NCD, 2005b-2005c), members of the class literally were overlooked or swept aside,? aabsent from even reference in emergency preparedness policies (NCD, 2005a). Members of the class have been invisible, not only in emergency preparedness, but also in institutional (Schmetzke, 2005) and corporate policies (Head, 2005). The class is not only out of sight, out of mind? (To quote writer/performer Cheryl Marie Wade in Mitchell and Snyder, 1996), but also out of cite, out of mind.

Society’s detachment from such obvious and omnipresent reality may seem inconceivable, at least to people who live the experience and fellow accessibility advocates. Society’s detachment is indeed also real, attributed to stigma, fear, discomfort, and uncertainty concerning the unknown (Coleman, 1997; McCaughey and Strohmer, 2005, 89-90), fundamental negative bias (Wright, 1988), sociocultural conditioning, perceptions of disability? as punishment for sin, a reminder of one’s own mortality, aesthetic aversion, and threats to body image integrity? (Livneh, 1991). Lennard Davis (1995, xi, xv), noting the disengagement from the topic of disability? i academia, cites the categories ?disabled,? ?handicapped,? and impaired? a being ?products of a society invested in denying the variability of the body.?

Because language is a primary means of communicating attitudes (Blaska, 1993, 27, quoting Froschl, et al., 1984, 20), it seems logical that representation of these fears, perceptions, and disengagement may be transmitted via and reflected in the terminology that commonly describes people with accessibility needs. Whether coincidentally or by correlation, terminology utilized to describe people with accessibility needs traditionally has been distinguished for its prejudicial, stigmatizing, stereotypical qualities (Gouvier & Coon, 2002, 52) and negativity (Yuker, 1988, xiii). Completing the circle, the descriptors also have been found to influence not only society’s perceptions of the class, but also class members? Self-perceptions (Gouvier, et al., 2000, 187-188).  

Such is the status quo. The decision and power to accept or to change this status quo of perceptions, attitudes, and accompanying consequences rest ultimately with the real stakeholders in this matter: people with accessibility needs.

The art of social re-labeling, practiced widely today as social marketing (Andreasen, 1995; McKenzie, Neiger, and Smeltzer, 2005; Novelli, 1990), helps to change perceptions, attitudes, and social acceptability. Disparaging terms such as asylum? seem more respectable if re-labeled ?mental hospital.? By definition, exceptional children? denotes both children who are superior, gifted? a children who ?form an exception? and are rare, incapacitated? (Rosenberg, 1979, 29-30). Exemplary terms change over time (Yuker, 1988, xiii). 21st century wars? have become ?theaters of operation? (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2005).

Language is power.

Change the language, change the perception? (Perlow, 2005) may be a key to creating a positive awareness about people with accessibility needs and accessibility concerns, as ubiquitous as this awareness needs to become.  For, thanks to global aging (WHO, 2005; Davis, 1995, xv), war and terrorism (Gawande, 2004; ICDRI, 2005), as well as continuing natural disasters (FEMA, 2005-), people with accessibility needs increasingly are family members, neighbors, colleagues, friends, us: everyone.

Defining ones own existence and identity, as other civil rights movements have successfully achieved in the past (Gallaudet University, 1988; Martin, 1991; Zola, 1993, 15), is an empowering experience. CSUN 2006 attendees are invited to participate in this experience via this Accessibility Research by and for People with Accessibility Needs.


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