All posts by emilywilliams


My name is Emily Williams Roberts, and I was last year’s coordinator of the Disability Studies Workshop. Due to many reasons, the DS Workshop has decided not to meet this year. We hope that in future years, we might reconvene!

In the meantime, the listserve will stay open, and I eagerly volunteer to continue sending out relevant CFPs, announcements, and opportunities. We have had a wave of people joining over the summer, and I hope this will continue to be a resource for our UChicago community! Please don’t hesitate to email me directly at EWRoberts @ or send out messages to disstudies-reading-request @ (moderated). While the workshop may not be active, I hope our community and advocacy will still be. (And I’ll note that I am always down for a good disability-related conversation, official workshop or not!)

If you are interested in potentially serving as next year’s workshop coordinator and getting this group back off the ground, I am happy to answer any questions you might have. I had a wonderful time being coordinator, and encourage others to step into the role!

Until next we meet,

Emily Williams Roberts

2/24/23 – Alice Rogers and Elizabeth McLain “Gorgons and Gatekeeping: Cognitive Access Tools for Inclusive Tabletop Roleplaying Games”

Please join us for a special guest presentation this Friday, February 24th! As noted in my last email, Mine Egbatan has had to cancel her presentation due to the earthquake in Turkey, and we keep her in our thoughts during this time. However, we are excited and grateful for Elizabeth and Alice to step in and present for us!

Emily Williams

Gorgons and Gatekeeping: Cognitive Access Tools for Inclusive Tabletop Roleplaying Games 

Elizabeth McLain and Alice Rogers

Friday, February 24th, 3:30pm – Rosenwald 329

Refreshments will be provided

Abstract: During the pandemic, our disability community in Southwest Virginia began using inclusive gaming to remain connected when we needed to maintain social distancing. Meanwhile, interest in tabletop roleplaying games (TTRPGs) skyrocketed, especially Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition (DnD 5e). Several of our community members wanted to play DnD together, but some struggled to fully access and enjoy the game due to cognitive barriers. Memory, attention, interaction, and decision-making support can be helpful to players, including those with ADHD, autism, chemo brain, and increasingly common neurological manifestations of long COVID. Empowered by grant funding, our team of disabled investigators, collaborators, playtesters, and their allies is developing open access tools to support disabled players and unlock the community-building potential of DnD. Our first project features interactive character creators, one-page player decision guides, and spell cards. To ensure everyone can play, our tools use Fifth Edition materials available through the Open Gaming License, which allows creators outside of Wizards of the Coast to develop content for DnD.

Our presentation and interactive demonstration will focus on the process of designing with neurodivergent and disabled DnD players, the experience of using the tools, and how we plan to expand on them in the future.



Alice Rogers (MA Ethnomusicology, University of Maryland) is Manager of Studios Media and Lending Services at the Virginia Tech University Libraries. She is a member of the Virginia Tech Accessible Gaming Research Initiative. Her work includes technology education and the support of multimedia projects, with a focus on improving access to technology by producing additional documentation, providing in-person and online workshops, and selecting easy-to-use equipment as a first priority. Under her supervision, the Studios Technology Lending Desk has expanded its holdings of accessible technology and gaming equipment, including a collection of over 60 board and tabletop games. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she oversaw the creation of the library’s Twitch channel and programming on tabletop gaming and literature education, and supported the transition from in-person gaming events to online spaces, for which her team was given a Library Diversity Award.

Elizabeth McLain (PhD. Musicology, University of Michigan) is an Instructor of Musicology and the interim co-director of the Disability Studies minor at Virginia Tech. As a transdisciplinary scholar, she maintains two active research specialties. Her work on music and spirituality since 1870 confronts assumptions about secularization by deciphering the spiritual and religious references in modernist and postmodernist musical compositions, as seen in the Journal of Musicological Research, her dissertation, and her contributions to Messiaen in Context and Mystic Modern: The Music, Thought, and Legacy of Charles Tournemire. McLain’s lived experience as a chronically ill cane-wielding autistic compels her to transform music scholarship through the principles of disability justice. She serves as co-chair of the Music and Disability Study Group of the American Musicological Society and is a professional member of RAMPD: Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities. By connecting disabled-run advocacy organizations, McLain combats ableism in academia with communities of care. Her research on disability culture and the arts has an (auto)ethnographic bent, capturing an insider’s perspective on the creative lives of disabled artists. With the support of an ACLS Digital Justice Seed Grant, her a2ru’s Ground Works team is documenting the inaugural CripTech incubator with an emphasis on ethical consent processes and access. She is also excited to be co-founding and co-directing the Disability Community Technology Center at Virginia Tech with Ashley Shew thanks to a generous grant from the Mellon Foundation. Her current book project is Krip Time: the Rhythm of Disabled Music, Life, and Activism.

Rogers and McLain’s accessible gaming project is supported by a Collaborative Research Grant from Virginia Tech Libraries (“Disability Community Building with Cognitively Accessible Tools for Tabletop Roleplaying Games” with Kayla B. McNabb) and the Mellon Foundation Higher Learning Program (“Just Disability Tech Futures” with Ashley Shew, Damien Williams, Andrea Pitts, and Tyechia Thompson).

2/17/23 – Shruti Vaidya “The function of fun: An ethnographic study of the role of “fun” in special education and vocational training spaces in India”

The function of fun: An ethnographic study of the role of “fun” in special education and vocational training spaces in India.

Shruti Vaidya

Friday, February 17th, 3:30pm – Rosenwald 329

Refreshments will be provided

Abstract: In this dissertation chapter, I analyze the role of fun in special education and vocational training spaces in India and explore how it does or does not weave into everyday and exceptional institutional practices. I specifically focus on the relational dynamic that emerges between special educators and intellectually disabled adults at Udaan, a new arts and vocational center in Pune that prioritizes principles of fun and pleasure. Based on ethnographic research conducted between 2021-22, I explore how moving away from the objectives of learning and productivity, and enabling fun and pleasurable experiences, can lead to the creation of “new worlds,” (Anjaria & Anjaria 2020, 234) and new social opportunities for intellectually disabled adults. I argue that by adopting a playful stance, the founders of Udaan break the monotony so deeply associated with special schools and vocational centers that cater to intellectually disabled people, and make otherwise mundane activities “fun”. Finally, I consider the issue of teasing or “making fun” as it came up repeatedly at Udaan. Moments of joy and teasing often co-existed, overlapped, but sometimes diverged- especially if it led to feelings of upset and hurt. By talking about practices of “making fun” and their ability to charge the atmosphere with negative or uncomfortable feelings, I want to make note of how complicated scenes of fun and laughter are, depending on who is in charge, who gets to say what, and at whose expense. Lastly, I also reflect on how I, as the ethnographer, was drawn into scenes of fun, laughter, as well as uncomfortable teasing, which affected my stance as a researcher and made me a participant in ways different from my other field-sites, which were more regulated and disciplined in nature. Instead of answering whether a focus on fun at Udaan unsettles the hierarchical relationship between educators and intellectually disabled people, I background (not ignore) unequal relational dynamics and foreground moments of joy. I do so not because power and control are absent in such moments, but because the presence of fun may produce affinities and intimacies (however temporary) that need to be attended to on their own accord.