Where is the Ramp for Me? Cognitive Disability and the Academy
As the mother of a thirty-one year old African American autistic male who holds an MS in Library and Information Science — and as a scholar who specializes in African American literature and cultural studies — I speak from experience of the unique type of discrimination levelled at those like my son who live with an invisible disability. In "The Body Silent", the late Robert F. Murphy theorizes that the following holds true for those disabled physically: "The greatest impediment to a person's taking full part in his society are not his physical flaws, but rather the tissue of myths, fears, and misunderstandings that society attaches to them" (113). Not unexpectedly, a similar web of myths, fears, and misunderstandings are associated with the cognitively disabled — a web whose triad of assumptions sway the most enlightened members of society to stigmatize those with neurological disorders even more than those with physical impairments — particularly when it comes to safeguarding the academy. Co-facilitated with my son, the workshop I propose helps to explode the erroneous suppositions that prevent those labelled as cognitively disabled from enjoying the intellectual citizenship that the non-disabled of less intelligence take for granted as it encourages members of the audience concerned about diversity to reflect upon the following, all too often, unspoken issues: The pros and cons of labelling; The distinction made between the physically and neurologically impaired; The assumption that the cognitively disabled have less to contribute to the academy than the physically disabled; The presumption that memoirs — such as those written by the cognitively impaired — have less artistic merit or cultural value than those penned by non-disabled authors; The presupposition that the cognitively impaired — unlike the rest of the population — are not individuals, albeit with unique assets and talents, who can speak for themselves.
Keywords: Disability Studies, Cognitive Disability, Autism, Autobiography/Memoir
Dr. Ruth Elizabeth Burks
Assistant Professor, Department of English, Bentley College
Mr. Gyasi Burks-Abbott
Board Member, Board of Directors, Asperger's Association of New England