I’m posting here a quick status update on what my disability and media course has been doing in their work on Wikipedia’s Disability page. During a class meeting early in the semester, we spent a lot of time studying the page, thinking about how it framed disability, and talking about how to address what we saw as its major flaw: namely, that it hewed to the medical model. Four students are now involved in their own research projects — I’ve asked them to collect some reliable sources before they begin their editing — but in the meantime, I went ahead and began editing the page, since I realized that first and foremost we needed to get a taste of what responses we might get to our edits. Additionally, as someone with a deeper engagement with disability studies than my students, I thought it only right that I begin shaping the page so that it would openly address the many models for disability. To that end, I significantly changed the lead section; I also added a history section. Interestingly, as we’ve added more discussion of the social model to the page, other editors have chimed in that they too think the entire page needs to be overhauled to better reflect the social model.
We’ll be making many more changes in the coming weeks, which I will continue to elaborate on this blog. For now, I’m including screen shots for anyone interested in following the story of how the page has changed since my class started working on it.
Here’s what the top of the page looked like on January 8, 2016, a week before my class began to analyze it:
If you’re interested in what the entire page looked like on January 8, I’ve saved a .pdf version that you can download here.
Here’s what it looks like on April 9, 2016. You can see the significant addition that appears just before the “Contents” section:
This is the History section that I added. I placed it at the front of the page, and none of the other editors have questioned that:
There are additional significant changes further down the page. Visit it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disability.
Information about the UTDallas feminist makerspace is now available here: http://feministmaker.space/.
Students in my course “Health, Disability, and Media” are currently editing Wikipedia entries around disability. Wikipedia has a WikiProject focused on disability (read about it here). While some students are addressing issues noted on that WikiProject’s page, others are taking up the challenge of reframing entire entries that may lean toward a medical model over a social model, for example, or that may privilege established medical knowledge and ignore the situated knowledge generated within disability communities. The question of what constitutes a neutral point of view (one of Wikipedia’s core principles) has already been questioned by feminist scholars of digital culture (e.g., here and here); this question extends into, but becomes even more complicated, when we consider that Wikipedia is attempting to mirror Western medical knowledge, which many people in disability communities argue is never neutral and has an oppressive effect on the lives of people with disabilities. Furthermore, while Wikipedia has made efforts to address issues of systemic bias around gender, global location, education, and race (among others), the site does not explicitly name disability representation as a problem. When we add people with disabilities to the mix, it becomes clear that if women’s knowledge is not well represented on Wikipedia — or that of people of color, of the Global South, and so forth — then the knowledge of women with disabilities is even less likely to be represented on the site. I’ll be updating this page with more insights into what my students’ projects reveal as the semester goes along.
On October 15, two days after Ada Lovelace Day, UT Dallas faculty and students met at the first session of Feminist Makerspace. My colleague Kim Knight led us in a tutorial on Twitterbots. I created Octavia Botler (for those of you unfamiliar with the work of the greatest African American female science fiction novelist, this is a play on Octavia Butler’s name), a bot that imagines a world where feminist science fiction is valued as much as male science fiction, and Hollywood turns classic feminist science fiction novels into film. You can see it at @OBotler.
I’m in the process of putting together an exhibit on the history of medical records. It is very much incomplete, since I’ve had to gather what’s available in local archives and have hit the usual issues that the 2003 HIPAA Privacy Rule, which applies to institutions that electronically record and transfer medical records, created for historians working in medical archives. You can view what I’ve thus far gathered here: http://cnx.org/content/m48765/latest. I’ll be speaking about those issues in the context of disability studies at the 2015 Digital Frontiers conference at UT Dallas.
We just concluded our first Medical Futures Lab symposium. It was a huge success and provoked some fascinating conversations among physicians, hackers, artists, writers, administrators, students, and social media consultants. Check out the line-up here.