Why We Have to Fight for Access to Theory: Judith Butler and the UCL Lecture

This post could also be called: Know what you’re letting yourself in for when you start an a campaign for disability access

UCL and the Inaccessible Lecture Hall: The Story of a Week

I was delighted when I heard that Judith Butler was coming to speak at UCL. Professor Butler, a prominent feminist and gender theorist, is based in Berkeley, California. Like many disabled people facing travel barriers, I don’t get to go to international conferences to hear major academic speakers very often. This was on my doorstep.

On Monday, I realised that there was no disability access information on the ticket website for Thursday’s lecture. I politely emailed the UCL Classics department to ask how a wheelchair user would access this event.

On Tuesday, I got a brief reply. “I’m very sorry but the Logan Hall where the event is happening is not wheelchair accessible,” was the full text of their email.

Rather abrupt, for an admission of potentially-illegal exclusion and discrimination, don’t you think?

On Tuesday and into Wednesday, after some persuading by friends, I organised a letter protesting the inaccessibility of the lecture to wheelchair users. 66 academics and activists, disabled and non-disabled people, co-signed it.

screenshot-2017-02-10-12-26-44

Late on Wednesday, I sent the letter to UCL, and asked if people would email the university themselves. They were sent on from one email address to the next, with no clarity as to who was responsible for the situation.

On Thursday, a colleague offered to alert Judith Butler herself to the access situation at the lecture. This was a matter of hours before her lecture. She was appalled, and offered to meet with disabled signatories of the letter later in the week. She said she spent part of an afternoon reading the Equality Act. She raised the issue with the department that had invited her to speak.

On Thursday, finally, apologies (of a sort) started coming through to some supporters. We had no choice, the university representative said. We moved the venue from an accessible one when we realised we needed a bigger venue. Our largest venue is currently not wheelchair-accessible, for health and safety reasons. 

UCL refused to move the venue.

At this point, I received a brief not our fault email from the department hosting the event. They pitted disabled people with different needs against each other: a blind person was coming, they said, suggesting that this somehow made the venue acceptable. (There was no logic to this statement, just an attempt to make me feel bad for protesting, I think.)

I was then informally told (via UCL’s twitter account) that it was all OK because I could watch the lecture online via a live stream. At home, alone.

I suggested a boycott by non-disabled people who were able to attend. After all, I said, if a live stream at home is good enough for disabled people, maybe we should show UCL that it’s good enough for everyone, and fail to turn up en masse!

The only people who took me up on the boycott challenge were a group of other disabled people and their friends. (Thank you to them!) As far as I know, no one else boycotted the event. This is worth thinking about. Non-disabled people, you were willing to email, but not to boycott. We were reduced to watching the event on the internet. Next time, would you consider putting your values into action, in solidarity with us?

On Thursday evening, Judith Butler opened her lecture by acknowledging publicly that the event was not accessible to some disabled people, and was in contravention of the Equality Act 2010.

In an informal twitter contact with me on Thursday, despite not apologising, UCL did manage to ask if I would like to help them to make their events more accessible. They did not say whether they would pay me for this. Usually, this is a voluntary thing. I’m a professional equality trainer, but like many disabled people, I’m often asked for my expertise and labour to ‘help’ institutions discriminate less, without pay.

It’s the final slap in the face that often follows this kind of experience.

Meeting Judith Butler

On Friday, a group of us met with Judith Butler.

The irony of all this is, of course, that Judith Butler writes about bodies. In her book ‘Bodies That Matter’ she talks about “the norm in bodily function” that society promotes, and what happens to those who cannot achieve that norm. In fact, those norms are dependent, she suggests, on those of us who don’t meet them. As we are subjugated (brought under domination), others become powerful – become the hegemony.[1] Disabled people need access to this kind of thinking, this kind of theory.

Unlike UCL, Professor Butler was gracious and supportive throughout these events, and publicly resisted exclusion and disablism. 

It was problematic that she asked us to meet just days after the situation emerged (though this was because she was only in London for a short time). Many disabled people find it exceptionally difficult to do things at short notice, because of social barriers. And there was no time for me to spread the word about the meeting very far. But a group of us managed to get there.

We’re going to blog elsewhere about what happened at that meeting. But for now, a few key things.

Prof Butler committed not to speak at an inaccessible venue again. She will now always ask what the access situation is before she speaks at any institution, she said.

We spoke about our experiences of academic (dis)ableism, and the culture of normalcy that pervades higher education. Prof Butler was keen to learn about this, and very angry on our behalf. “It’s clear you’ve developed an ironic sense of humour to deal with this, but everything you’ve told me about is appalling,” she said. We all spoke from weary, defeated experience, as we discussed how we are oppressed, trapped and abused by the academic system, and by the rest of society beyond that.

I think Prof Butler left us with two messages: that networking is important, and that non-disabled allies need to stand with us. We’re limited in the first by being very busy – being disabled, and fighting disablism and barriers, are full-time jobs in themselves, on top of our other work. But we’re working on expanding our current networks: watch this space, disabled academics and students. As for the second: it was positive that non-disabled people wanted to support us this time. This was probably because of who Judith Butler is. I don’t for a minute believe that all those non-disabled colleagues will find time to support disabled academics and students with every other access battle we face. That’s never been our experience. (Remember: they wouldn’t boycott.) But maybe a few of them have had their consciousness raised, and will remember.

Perhaps feminism could start by working on being truly intersectional and not ignoring disability any longer. @trialia on twitter was talking today about yet another interesting article on intersectionality in feminism, that completely fails to mention disability. (Ironic, since it also uses a picture with a token wheelchair user in it.) This is very common for disabled people. We are used to being the ‘etc’ in every list of diversity issues (as Mike Oliver puts it). We have been at serious risk in the UK for at least ten years. The UN has accused the UK of grave disability rights violations. Disabled people are dying every day because of government policy. But we are still rarely talked about or offered solidarity by/in feminism. But, as we discussed at this meeting, non-disabled allies have a responsibility to do something about that.

I can’t speak for the others at the meeting – but for me, it was extremely helpful to be listened to. No one in academia ever actually listens to the experiences of disabled people. If they did, they would create change. Instead, they mostly pretend to listen, politely, and go back to being part of oppressive systems. It was very encouraging to have a senior academic listen, want to learn, be appalled by the situation, and commit to taking action.

There were voices on twitter yesterday arguing that Prof Butler should not have spoken at UCL last week. Do they have a point? Maybe. At the same time, she was in a difficult position, with a matter of hours between finding out about the issue and the beginning of the lecture, and with the inviting department telling her that they had not known about the inaccessibility. She has committed not to speak in a venue again without confirmation that it is accessible. She’ll find this a complex thing, of course, as accessibility is important for people with many kinds of impairment, not just for wheelchair users. But I’ve never heard a prominent non-disabled academic make this commitment before. If all non-disabled academics refused to speak in venues that exclude disabled people, institutions like UCL would not be able to repeat this unacceptable, illegal situation.

One of the people at the meeting wrote this set of reflections on structures of disability discrimination in higher education. It’s an important read. She calls on allies working in HE to support us, in very practical ways, in making change. And to prevent exclusion like this from happening again.

Battles for Access, Exclusion from Knowledge

I spent a week doing almost nothing but organising this single fight for access to theory and knowledge.

Now imagine: disabled people face these kinds of battles every day. This is the kind of work we have to do to be included in society. Labour, when we are already disabled and many of us are very tired – including emotional labour (although it’s also often physical for us, and damaging to our bodies!)

And most of the time, these access battles fail. It was very responsible and considerate of Judith Butler to meet with us. It was a good experience to have hundreds of people support the campaign. But the lecture remained inaccessible, and UCL have taken very little responsibility for their potentially-illegal discrimination against wheelchair users.

Theory and knowledge must be accessible to all.

It’s 2017. How is it that wheelchair users still can’t get into lecture halls to hear the same interesting speakers that everyone else has access to?

#MakeTheoryAccessible #AccessToKnowledge

P.S. Finally, An Apology

I came home from the discussion with Judith Butler to find an email, finally, from UCL’s ‘Senior Management Team Disability Champion,’ apologising. I’ve shared that email here. It is the same claim repeated: that they had to move the event to an inaccessible venue because it was popular.

UCL’s excuses do not stand. They did not have to release more tickets – they chose to. They could have done many other things to accommodate disabled ticket-holders, when they realised the problem. They have a responsibility, when holding a public lecture, to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. And ‘health and safety’ is rarely considered an excuse to get out of equality law. UCL have acknowledged none of this.

It’s not good enough, UCL. Until you commit to never doing this again, I’m not interested in your excuses. And, I suspect, neither are the many disabled students you exclude every day, whose struggles I’ve been hearing about this week.

[1] How does that materialization of the norm in bodily formation produce a domain of abjected bodies, a field of deformation, which in failing to qualify as the fully human, fortifies those regulatory norms? What challenge does that excluded and abjected realm produce to a symbolic hegemony that might force a radical rearticulation of what qualifies as bodies that matter, ways of living that count as “life,” lives worth protecting, lives worth saving, lives worth grieving?

-Judith Butler (Bodies That Matter, 1997, 15)

Author: Naomi Jacobs

Disabled PhD researcher, theorist and equality activist. Researching for a PhD in disability studies at SOAS, University of London.

17 thoughts on “Why We Have to Fight for Access to Theory: Judith Butler and the UCL Lecture”

  1. Excellent summary. I’m glad we’ve met (I’m @DrCSGill on Twitter and we’ve connected over this debacle).. All my best and let’s keep up the (tiring, annoying, time consuming, draining) fight! PS: You might like some of my blog posts on UttingWolffSpouts, especially those about knowledge and exclusion from academia).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am sorry this happened to you. And UCL should have indeed considered your needs. But please, can you tell me what should have been UCL’s response in this constrained situation?

    Not move to a larger venue to accommodate a larger crowd as you suggest “They did not have to release more tickets – they chose to.”

    I totally understand that UCL deserves the flak to have not until now have converted Logan hall into an accessible venue, and your outrage regarding this event is justified. But your tone is not. Instead of ranting, why don’t you provide some solutions to what they could have done and should do moving forward! If you believe in order to accommodate you, others shouldn’t be accommodated, then I am sorry that is not a solution.

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    1. Why don’t you consider that it is UCL’s legal responsibility and obligation to come up with those ideas? Naomi is not a paid university employee, she is not even a University volunteer for disability access. She is a student who should absolutely have just as much access to educational experiences as other, non-disabled students.

      In no way is she ranting -. she pointed out the lack of follow-up, UCL’s failure to address her and other students’ need, their clear bias towards defending their actions instead of offering apology and working to correct the issue. your argument is that Noami is suggesting the venue should’ve been smaller in order to be held in a more disability-accessible place.She never said that – she said when the university made the move, they should have EQUALLY weighed the consequences of all students, instead of prioritizing the accommodation of larger crowds at the exclusion of disabled students. THAT is not Naomi’s problem to fix – it is the responsibility of the university to take this into account in the first place, and if they fail, to do everything n their power to correct, apologize, and make up for the mistake.
      And to be clear – even if she was ranting, is that not acceptable? Should she not be outraged that she is being denied quality access to the same experiences as other students? Does she not pay tuition? Tell me – if your professor made lectures only in ASL, and you couldn’t interpret, would you not be outraged? Would you not demand answers and change and better accessibility?

      Considering the needs of the disabled is not a bonus – it is not extra credit, or something that you should expect accolades for. It is recognition of basic human decency, and to be honest, it is a legal obligation as well as a moral one. The fact that you would focus more energy on critiquing Naomi’s tone and writings as a disabled student than on the actions of the university is embarrassing. Think you before you speak.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I’m not entirely sure it’s Naomi’s job to put forward recommendations. At least not until they offer to pay for that expertise. The thing is is that the law is very clear about this and UCL is a very large institution with a legal department to match and so should not have to be alerted to their law breaking by a member of the public. Basically in response to ‘what ought they to have done’ UCL should never have been in the situation in the first place if they had complied with the law.

      The ‘ranting’ as you put it is actually a clear theorising about dis/ableism and the somewhat tokenistic support non-disabled allies give. Pity you couldn’t see that.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Lots of things wrong with your comment Merch. First, there’s no ranting here and policing tone is kind of a it no no on the Internet (perhaps you are a novice user?) Instead what we have is a frankly even-handed detailing of a situation that happens to disabled people in academic institutions multiple times a day. Second, it is not up. To disabled people to find solutions for institutions when those institutions are legally required to provide accessible environments and events (not to mention the moral principle of so doing). Further why should disabled people have to do all the intellectual labour for you? Do you think that black people should be responsible for proposing solutions to racism? Third, your point about how Naomi and colleagues would have been preventing access to others had they succeeded in getting UCL to provide an accessible venue is fatuous and simply confirms that you are ignorant about what accessibility means and is. Your comment was complacent, privileged, and offensive.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. If watching via webcast was supposed to be good enough for the disabled people who had tickets to the event in the original, lower-capacity-but-wheelchair-accessible venue, couldn’t they have offered the webcast option to those latecomers who were interested in attending after the original block of tickets were taken?

      Either way, some people aren’t going to get to attend live, but I hope you’d agree its way more fair (let alone less potentially-illegal/discriminatory) to prioritize access for those who registered first, rather than making the need for accessibility the deciding factor on who can attend.

      For the record, I just read this article and came up with this suggestion off the top of my head, so I’m pretty sure those organizing the event could have done the same. They don’t need the disabled community to help them figure out solutions, what they need is to accept that it’s not okay to just toss out accessibility as a “would be nice” when organizing these types of events. If they felt it was a problem they actually needed to solve then they would probably have solved it, rather than shrugging it off in the first place.

      Liked by 1 person

    5. I shall respond to what UCL should have done in purely legal and practical terms.

      UCL could have put the main talk in an accessible venue and the overspill in the inaccessible venue with livestream as “compensation”. It would have been both lawful under Equality Act and true social model of disability practice to do this in response to a late discovered failing. This was suggested to UCL several times by several people including me – I even explained how this was entirely legal and good social model practice.

      Yes it would be ‘unfair’ to those in overspill, but so was excluding disabled people who had booked their tickets fair and square (at a time before bad accessibility choices were made by UCL). It is ALWAYS disabled people who are excluded when cockups happen or there’s a pressure of numbers. At least making the Judith Butler live part of the event accessible would be bucking the usual disablist trend and sharing our the ‘unfairness’ to those who don’t routinely experience it in their daily lives.

      It isn’t reasonable to tell disabled people that we shouldn’t inconvenience others to demand access to the same things non disabled people take for granted.

      UCL should not have opened up more tickets without properly checking the new venue was suitable. We wouldn’t accept a bigger venue which had health and safety breaches, we shouldn’t accept inaccessible bigger venues. Yes UCL was refurbishing it, but this too is too little too late – that should have been done years ago! UCL can’t blame IoE, because by merging they have responsibility and liability for IoEs failings as well as their own… Universities have not taken anywhere near enough steps to make their buildings accessible – in many cases they are still making new buildings inaccessible in a variety of ways!

      The first legislation covering public accessibility of buildings came into force in 1970 with the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. The 1995 Disability Discrimination Act also obligates those providing public services to be accessible with further details and ability to enforce the law by those excluded/discriminated against. If universities wish to use their lecture theatres for public events, for which they get a lot of publicity, they should have legally been making them accessible for either 47 years or 22 years depending on the issues. Disabled students didn’t get legal rights in a student context till September 2005 for buildings, which is nearly 12 years ago… All of that is long enough for universities to have been planning ahead, prioritising improvements and ensuring accessibility was sorted.

      If this legislation was new I’d be less narked, but if anything Naomi has been far more measured than I would be. We’re not willing to wait any longer.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. here is what i’m not grasping.

        you have two points here: 1) that it would in fact be unfair for those who had tickets to be forced to–essentially–watch via livestream, but that this unfairness is acceptable while the unfairness to you is not; 2) that it is illegitimate of UCL to have its largest venue be inaccessible.

        1) strikes me as a moral and ethical decision. I note that it is hard to escape the feeling that you are saying it’s OK for others to have to watch what is essentially a livestream, but not for you. Who makes that decision? Why is that OK? If you really want equal treatment, which is a major tenet of this piece, why do you get to decide that it’s all right for some other people not to be treated equally? Why exactly if that solution were offered, do disabled people get to see the live talk and non-disabled people don’t? It truly sounds like you are asserting a superior right over others. \

        1a) Further, your solution assumes that UCL could in fact afford to devote two rooms to this event, which you do not know. As someone who works at a University (not UCL though) I can tell you that space is often booked weeks and even months in advance, costs money (as do real-time live streams and broadcasts–does UCL even have such a venue, by the way?), and may not be available at all. I mean this very seriously: I have had moderately famous speakers roughed in for days literally 6 months in advance, and been unable to find ANY rooms on a large campus for them to speak even if I can make the exact dates and times variable. You presume these things can be changed without actually knowing this is the case.

        2) this may well be the case. but is that the fault of the department that brought in Butler, rather than UCL itself, whose largest venue is not accessible? UCL, not the Classics Dept, runs its buildings. From the description of the lift problem it sounds as if there is an inherent problem in this building that may not be easily remediable, but I don’t know. Perhaps the only available choice, outside of million-pound rebuilding, is to shut the venue down entirely, in which case the event couldn’t have been held at all, or at worst in the smaller space, when many other people would have been locked out. To you, you being locked out is more important than the hundreds who might have been locked out that way–do you see how this can be viewed as selfish? Your needs are more important than the many people who could only come to a bigger venue?

        I’m going to harp on what I see as a selfishness in your piece from a later point. You write that Butler offered to meet with you and did meet with you–a private meeting that there is no suggestion anyone else got, by the way–but that “It was problematic that she asked us to meet just days after the situation emerged (though this was because she was only in London for a short time). Many disabled people find it exceptionally difficult to do things at short notice, because of social barriers.”

        this aside on your part really worries me. Butler’s trip was scheduled far in advance. She is obviously a world-famous and very busy professional whose schedule is likely determined at least a year in advance. she went out of her way to create a special meeting with you, even though she isn’t the one who created the problem. Her invitation to speak with you was constrained by her finding out when the problem happened, which you say earlier on was quite soon before this, and her scheduling by her own professional schedule and pre-made travel plans. But you STILL want more. You go out of your way to snipe at her and suggest that there was something discriminatory in her failing to give you more time to plan before the meeting. Do you really think a professor, no matter what stature, owes you the extension of a trip by what–a week or more–at her own expense, by the way, and no doubt screwing over whomever she was supposed to meet with or teach after you–simply to meet your own needs?

        Our world is conditioned by selfishness everywhere. By saying that I come first, and other people can go to hell. I applaud you for pointing out this problem to UCL and I certainly hope they remediate their problem. But there is a me-first attitude in this piece that is disturbing. Making everything in the world accessible is neither as easy nor as cost-free as you seem to think it is. You are demanding that the world bend over backwards to do what you want, but show very little willingness to see that this requires other people to give up quite a lot. (as for example, the people who wouldn’t have been able to see Butler speak if the talk had been kept in the smaller venue). as such, you sound less like an oppressed minority (which you are, don’t get me wrong) and more like the average Western person who thinks the world should bend to her will.

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    6. ” If you believe in order to accommodate you, others shouldn’t be accommodated, then I am sorry that is not a solution.”
      But that’s exactly what you are suggesting we put up with. Why does everyone else get a vote, but not us?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Just here to say thank you to Naomi for taking the time to do this work, and not just in this blog post, from which I have learned, and continue to learn a great deal. I’m also here to smack down the suggestion, above (@Merch), that somehow this post was a ‘rant’ and unproductive.

    The sanctimonious question about what UCL should have done, as lizellis65 and Taryn already have pointed out, is the wrong question. The answer is that this situation was never Naomi’s responsibility to solve, but she has gone to the trouble of offering at least 2 specific recommendations here: (1) That organisers must actually think about all kinds of accessibility needs of potential delegates in the very early planning stages of an event, not as an afterthought—and to consult experts like Naomi if needed (and to pay them for their labour). This recommendation clearly applies to all similar events by extension. If this had been done then this situation simply would never have arisen in the first place.

    (2) That organisers shouldn’t play off different accessibility needs against one another. This is not the focus of Naomi’s argument here (with good reason) so I’d welcome conversation on this point if I have missed something.

    As I understand it, Merch insinuates that UCL was effectively forced to choose between *either* meeting the needs of visually impaired delegates *or* the needs of wheelchair users, is clearly wrong. To think like that would be to buy into the logic UCL has used to defend itself in its email to Naomi, which she identifies as a diversion tactic.
    Evidently, ‘visually impaired’ and ‘wheelchair user’ are not mutually exclusive categories. Having apparently disregarded this fact, UCL seems to have presented itself with a false choice; resulting in the decision to swap inaccessible room A for inaccessible room B. Surely, the point is that there *were* other options. Choosing to accommodate some needs and not others could not have been just an unfortunate necessity in the case of UCL, an enormous academic institution with a massive budget and resources.

    More power to you, Naomi. I am with you in righteous anger!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ugh, *Headdesk*. It’s sort of the perfect example, isn’t it. The lecture that starts out accessible, and then because it’s popular they decide that accessibility is actually optional. Then they fob you off, and then gaslight* you for having dared to object. And then they want you to fix the problem for them. And just to cap it all, someone turns up to tone-police you.

    What I find especially interesting is UCL’s largest lecture theatre eing not wheelchair accessible, but in a way that doesn’t stop wheelies accessing it, it just means they can’t get out in a fire. I’m willing to bet there’ve been multiple H&S breaches where people have just turned up in a chair.

    As for whether Professor Butler should have refused to speak, from where I’m sitting (on wheels) it’s functionally no different to “Oh, just so you know, we’ll be stopping any black or gay students at the door”. It’s that ‘etc’ again. What provokes outrage for other minorities produces mild concern for us. The timing was awkward, but so was the principle.

    But well done for making an entirely necessary fuss!

    *Someone actually responded this week to a 4 year old post of mine about airport access issues by quite literally telling me that the problem only existed in my head.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Frank L. – I think most of the points raised in your comments have been answered in detail by other posters, but to go over them again…

    1) “Your needs are more important than the many people who could only come to a bigger venue?” Yes, of course they are, what a strange argument! There is always a ticket limit for events. Some people always miss out because all the tickets have been booked. I can see from Twitter that some people missed out on this event because it was fully booked. This is not at all the same situation as being physically unable to get into the building. A smaller accessible venue should have been used from the beginning, meaning that less people could book tickets. A live stream could then be offered for those who didn’t manage to get a ticket.

    2) Scenario 1 didn’t happen either because the organisers didn’t think about asking about accessibility, or they deliberately sacrificed accessibility for more attendees. This was a failing on their part either way. Natalya’s suggestion of a two room solution would have been a way of making up for that failing. The exclusion of disabled* and non-disabled attendees from the room are not comparable. As a non-disabled academic, I have NEVER been physically excluded from a lecture (apart from if the tickets had run out, obviously); from my friends’ and colleagues experiences, this happens over and over again; failings like this are a regular occurrence; it is nothing to do with “selfishness”. Your comment about needing “million pound rebuilding” is interesting – I’m fairly willing to bet million pound rebuilding has already happened on many occasions – universities invest huge amounts of money into estates projects, and have done for years. Clearly, providing a large accessible lecture theatre hasn’t been a priority so far. (Also, as disabled students and academics will attest to, million pound rebuilding happens regularly and lecture theatres are STILL made inaccessible). You presume that the rooms couldn’t be changed, and that the organisers made every effort to change them, but you have no idea whether this is the case or not.

    3) I understand that Naomi and her colleagues had a very productive meeting with Professor Butler, and I think it’s really important and positive that that happened. I’m glad that Butler was so receptive, So the following is no criticism of Naomi’s work at all, but merely a response to your accusations of how unfair it would be if the event couldn’t be held… If Butler had chosen not to speak (and therefore denied everyone the chance of hearing her), I would have fully supported it. She is one of the most famous academics alive, and she has built her career, reputation, and money on talking about marginalized bodies and oppressive practices. It would have been absolutely “fair” for the event not to go ahead rather than exclude disabled people from the room. Non-disabled audience members (especially people who have “intersectional feminist” or “intersectional queer” on their Twitter bios) should not have attended out of solidarity. If you’re going to claim to be an intersectional queer, you have to live up to it a bit!

    4) I don’t see any call from Naomi for Professor Butler to have extended her trip on her own money (although I find it bizarre and disappointing that Judith Butler’s finances are one of the main things you’re getting angry about here!) She acknowledges that Butler is only in the UK for a few days, and is very positive about the meeting. Pointing out that a short notice meeting like this may be inaccessible too is important, as it’s something that people may not have thought about (as a non-disabled academic myself, this is something that I’ve had to learn from my mistakes).

    The main thing about this whole affair is that if Naomi hadn’t taken significant time and energy to complain about this, nothing would have been done. UCL would not have noticed. The event would have gone ahead as a success and audience members who pride themselves on being queer feminists would have come away feeling politically inspired by Butler (I’m sure I would have done). The department would have been pleased about hosting an event with such a massive turn out. I still expect they will be able to put their audience stats down on a report somewhere. Nothing gets changed unless people make a fuss, and its really depressing to see people making a fuss about oppression and being faced with accusations of selfishness.

    Anyway, thank you to Naomi for all your work on this, and I will keep working to try improve my own practice around accessibility.

    * Using disabled here to refer to the users of mobility aids who were excluded on this occasion – am aware that there are many other access requirements, and that I have certainly attended/organised events that are inaccessible in other ways; something we should all be working on as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting. A lot of the tone in both the original piece and the responses reads like the 1970s – think feminism, racial equality. And, frankly, back in the day, unless you were an activist, it was highly unlikely that you would truly understand the importance of the agenda.
    I came to disability later in life so maybe my attitude is slightly different but it seems pretty obvious that the Uni – or in fact many multiple building owners – are not going to prioritise access. Now given that my local village cafe can manage this, albeit in a basic manner, it is definitely a matter of choosing to spend a limited budget elsewhere. Possibly where it will benefit the most people.
    That does not mean it is morally ok nor that it is acceptable.
    By staging an event which is open to the public in a venue that is wheel-chair exclusive the University was failing it’s obligations under the law. It was discriminating against wheelchair using disabled persons and thus acting in an illegal manner. This leaves them wide open to be sued, Emailing saying they are being unfair just will not cut the mustard, the standard replies about trying better next time are the best you can expect. A strongly worded solicitor’s letter on file may on the otherhand make them think twice. If not, it supports a claim at a later point. The laws are there to be used.
    A final word. There is a word of difference between ignorance and intention. Because something is said or done rooted in ignorance of the reality of another’s experience does not make it patronising or superior. It means that the person needs educating and shouting at someone is not educating them. If an non-disabled person comments with a different opinion it doesn’t necessarily make them wrong or superior etc it means they are coming at the issue from a different place. Take the time to educate rather than denigrate.

    Liked by 1 person

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