I’ve been going to a lot of disability conferences recently.
Almost every presentation I’ve attended has been addressed solely or primarily to a nondisabled audience. This is odd, because there have also been very visibly disabled people at all of these conferences. (And since all the audiences contained me, they also always contained at least one disabled person.)
Even when there were very visibly disabled people in the room, people still did this. Even at conferences that have been running for a long time and *always* have multiple significantly disabled people present, people still addressed their presentations to a nondisabled audience.
For whatever reason, very few people prepare remarks with the assumption that disabled people also want to learn more about disability. I don’t know why this is, but I do know that it’s a pervasive problem.
I’ve observed this problem even in lectures on the importance of presuming competence and remembering that disabled people have things to say. Even in that context, I’ve heard “you and I can do x, but they…” or “you and I can assume that others will listen to us, but they…”. And this is even when there are multiple people in the room who are visibly disabled and unable to speak.
It’s very strange. There’s some kind of cultural bias that causes people to ignore the perspectives of disabled people so automatically and thoroughly that they forget that their perspectives even exist. It can be hard to notice that you’re doing this. It’s worth putting active effort into acknowledging disability perspectives. Having the right intentions isn’t usually enough.
When you’re lecturing on disability, it’s worth thinking about questions like:
Am I saying “you and I” or “we” to mean “people who don’t have a particular impairment”?
If so, how can I use the example I want to use without making disabled audience members “they”?
Am I addressing the disabled people in the room, or am I assuming a nondisabled audience?
Am I saying anything that is relevant to or targeted to the disabled people in the room?
If not, why not?
Is there a way to fix that?
Actually, this is good practice even if you’re *not* addressing disability-related topics. Disabled people are everywhere. We have the same range of interests as anyone else. There’s likely a disabled person in your audience (especially if your remarks are recorded, but even if they are not.) It’s much better to assume that there are always disabled people in the audience, and to speak accordingly.
Tl;dr: Disabled people exist, and we go to disability conferences — and everywhere else, too. If you’re giving a talk, assume that disabled people will be in the audience, and prepare your remarks accordingly.