Steep Steps and Closed Doors: Reimagining Resilience in Educational Access

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Northeast Modern Language Associatation (NeMLA)
contact email: 

Submit Abstract here:



What is access? How do we expand educational spaces when we take the approach that disability is always in the room?

Jay Dolmage provides the following insight into academic ableism, referring to the “steep steps” of the academy. He writes:

“The steep steps metaphor describes how the university has been constructed as a place for the very able. The steep steps metaphor puts forward the idea that access to the university is a movement upwards—only the truly “fit” survive this climb. University campuses have lots of steep steps—but the entire university experience can also be metaphorized as a movement up steep steps. The steep steps, physically and figuratively, lead to the ivory tower. The tower is built upon ideals and standards— historically, this is an identity that the university has embraced” (2017). 

In breaking down the binary between physical access and access to knowledge within the academy, Dolmage offers us productive questions to consider, such as: How do we counter ableism within the institution? How are notions of resilience potentially disempowering and exclusionary? How can a trauma-informed approach break down barriers in educational spaces?

Cultural geographer David Sibley similarly writes about the inextricable and mutually exclusive relationship between environment and disability, writing that: “space and society are implicated in the construction of the boundaries of the self but . . . the self is also projected onto society and onto space,” (2009) and Tanya Titchkosky argues that “[D]isability has a long history of being mapped as if it is a foreign land, and a distanced curiosity remains one of the most repetitive, debilitating, yet ‘normal’ ways of regarding the life and work of disabled people” (2002).

This is a call for roundtable submissions that explore and reimagine access in educational spaces. What is it? How do we apply a pedagogy of disability that is truly universal? And why? In other words, how can we create educational spaces that explicitly welcome disability “through the front entrance” (Dolmage 2017).