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 @ Uchicago.com or send out messages to disstudies-reading-request @ lists.uchicago.edu (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.

2/10/2023 – Matthew Borus “Navigating Policy from Below: Managing on SSI and SSDI in Greater Chicago”

Please join us for our first of three disability studies workshop panels this Friday, February 10th.


As always, please reach out to me (ewroberts@gmail.com) if you have any access needs or requests.

Emily Williams

Student Coordinator


Navigating Policy from Below:

Managing on SSI and SSDI in Greater Chicago


Matthew Borus


Friday, February 10th, 3:30pm – Rosenwald 329

Refreshments will be provided.


Abstract: The Social Security Administration’s income support programs for disabled people serve millions of beneficiaries each year.  But the literature on social programs has paid limited attention to these programs, particularly to the lived experience of claimants.  This paper draws on in-depth interviews and participant observation with disabled people in the Chicago area to argue that they manage their benefits through a process of policy navigation from below.  With limited resources and information, clients devote considerable mental and emotional labor to maintaining their eligibility, earning enough money to meet their needs, and dealing with the uncertainty and precarity that frame those tasks.

A note from the scholar: Hi colleagues! I’m grateful for the opportunity to present at the workshop.  Attached is the paper I’m working on.  If you have time to review it, that would be great, though I hope that you’ll still attend if not.  This paper is based on interviews with disabled Social Security beneficiaries.  As it currently stands, it’s more of a poverty-focused paper than a disability paper–not the direction in which I expected it to develop!  I’m grateful for all feedback, with a particular eye to ways to tie it to disability-focused literatures. Thanks, Matt

Winter Quarter 2023 Disability Studies Workshop Schedule

Hello!It is with great excitement that I announce the schedule for our upcoming Disability Studies Workshop. While a relatively short-running event, I am excited for us to convene and learn more about each other and our research!You will find the schedule and presentation titles below; further information, such as abstracts and location, will be coming shortly.If you have any access needs, please contact me as soon as possible so we can dialogue about possible solutions.Thank you, and hope to see many of you soon!Emily Williams

DS Workshop Coordinator__February 10th3:30 – 5:00 pmNavigating Policy from Below: Managing on SSI and SSDI in Chicago

Matthew Borus (Sociology and Social Work)February 17th
3:30 – 5:00 pm

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

Shruti Vaidya (Comparative Human Development)February 24th
3:30 – 5:00 pm

Disabled Women in Turkey: Disability, Gender, and Infrastructure in a Populist Authoritarian State

Mine Egbatan (Anthropology; University of Arizona)

March 3rd

Research through all of our bodies: A sensory ethnography workshop

Emily Williams (Music)

Roundtable on Disability Under Siege: Palestine (Friday, May 6, at 12 noon CT, Virtual)

Disability Under Siege: Palestine

Friday, May 6, at 12 noon CT, Virtual, Register

Facebook eventhttps://fb.me/e/1kzAfLNkh

Join a roundtable that brings together an expert panel – public health practitioners, disability rights advocates, and researchers of trauma and debility – to discuss various aspects of disability in Palestine.

Organized by Jasbir Puar, Visiting Professor, Pozen Family Center for Human Rights; Professor and Graduate Director, Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, Rutgers University

Ghassan Abu-Sittah, Director, Conflict Medicine Program, Global Health Institute, American University of Beirut

Nadera Shaloub-Kevorkian, Lawrence D. Biele Chair in Law, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Dina Kiwan, Professor in Comparative Education, University of Birmingham, UK

Shatha Abu Srour, Disability Rights Advocate, Palestine

This event is co-sponsored by the Near Eastern Languages and CivilizationsGlobal StudiesDisability Studies Workshop, and the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights at the University of Chicago.

Click here to register

Disability under Siege: Palestine

4/26/22 – Abigail Cline, “Lives: A Conscious Musical” (EthNoise! and Theater and Performance Studies Workshops)

Please join the EthNoise! and Theater and Performance Studies Workshops for:


Abigail Cline

MAPH Student, University of Chicago

Who will Present:

Lives: A Conscious Musical

Emily Williams, PhD Student, University of Chicago Department of Music

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

4:30–6:00 PM CST

Over Zoom

(Live ASL interpretation and Zoom live captioning will be made available for this session.)

Please register for the workshop HEREThe workshop coordinators will circulate the paper to all registrants and the Zoom link is made available upon registration.

(Please do not cite or circulate the works-in-progress without the author’s explicit consent.)

ABSTRACT: This critical paper explores two stigmatized communities, d/Deafness and mental illness, and how musical theatre can be a powerful vehicle for defamiliarizing the misunderstandings around these experiences. To demonstrate this, I have composed a full-length stage musical, Lives: A Conscious Musical, to explore and work to repair these sociopolitical concerns. When you think of musical theatre, it is likely that you don’t initially consider d/Deaf people to be part of the cast or the audience. Typical expectations around music and musical theatre are highly conditioned by able-bodied norms, including the mistaken assumptions that d/Deaf people don’t interact with sound and/or don’t like music or musicals. In reality, d/Deaf folks have a wide range of ways to interact with sound (Holmes, Maler) and respecting this diversity means aligning with the modern Deaf community’s perspective, which does not consider deafness a disability, but rather a minority identity defined by a range of sensory experiences. My artistic experiences with the d/Deaf community were my initial inspiration to compose a story in this medium. Creating musical theatre that stages both hearing and Deaf language, both hearing and Deaf ways of being, creates a valuable opportunity towards repairing a painful history of stigma that persists today. The other community addressed is those who live with mental illness. By observing trauma’s effect on the body and a variety of healing methods, particularly less conventional alternative modalities such as hypnotic past life regressions, we engage with approaching recovery as a customized, rather than one-size-fits-all, approach. My main objective is to implement progressive academic ideas, not limited to disability studies, ethnomusicology, linguistic anthropology, and psychology; into a digestible medium for mainstream audiences to experience.

Call for Application: Student Coordinators for Disability Studies Workshop 2022-2023 (deadline April 12)

Dear UChicago Disability Studies community,

We are calling your attention to the call for applications from the Council on Advanced Studies workshops for the next academic year. As much as we enjoyed hosting events in the workshop, the student organizers for the current academic year – Zihao and Erika – cannot continue coordinating next year as both of us will be away from Chicago and enter our field trips in our fourth year. However, we’d love to provide support for whoever wishes to become the new student coordinator(s).

Here is a brief overview of some of the tasks student coordinator(s) will be expected to do if they take on the position:

  • Writing and sending emails

  • Keeping the website up-to-date and promoting the workshop

  • Inviting guest presenters of your choice

  • Accommodating the access needs of participants

  • Organizing food catering for in-person workshop events

  • Time commitment is one year

Thank you for being part of this growing community at UChicago. One of our goals with this space is to highlight the value of incorporating disability as an object or method in other fields. Over the past years as a Study Group or Workshop, we have provided a platform for participants to present on a range of disciplines, topics, and areas of study. In the coming years, one of our most immediate goals will be to continue to increase our size and the number of departments from which students are drawn. Our continued goal is to provide support to our student participants as they advance in their graduate careers. Given the relative paucity of work in disability studies at UChicago, the Workshop provides an important space for support and critique by peers and faculty.

If you are interested, please reach out to us (linzh@uchicago.eduerikaprado@uchicago.edu) or our faculty advisor Michele Friedner (michelefriedner@uchicago.edu) who has gladly agreed to continue supervising the workshop next year. Feel free to pass this call for applications to anyone who is committed to continuing to provide such a space.

Best wishes,

Zihao & Erika

Winter Quarter 2022 Disability Studies Workshop Schedule


Fridays | 2:00PM-3:20PM (CST) on Zoom (unless otherwise noted)

Mark your calendars and RSVP here!

January 28th Joint Session with The Research in Art and Visual Evidence (RAVE) Workshop
“My practice is staying alive”: Critique and care in the sculptures of Emily Barker
Brandon Sward, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Sociology, University of Chicago
This chapter focuses on two recent projects by artist Emily Barker entitled Built to Scale and Moving Parts. While in the former Barker created an immersive installation to replicate some of the embodied experiences of wheelchair users, with Moving Parts Barker converted a recreational vehicle into an accessible live-work space as a response to the ways in which ableism is embedded in the built environment, aspects of which had been previously made visible in Built to Scale. By bringing Barker into conversation with concepts like art historian Julia Bryan-Wilson’s “occupational realism,” wherein the living of life itself is presented as a work of art, and architect Yona Friedman’s “mobile architecture,” wherein buildings respond to the shifting needs of their occupants, this chapter explores how the world Barker envisions could benefit both the able and disabled and how art can provide a space to engage these collective imaginings.
Discussant: Sila Ulug, Ph.D. Student, Department of Art History, University of Chicago

February 4th
Criminalization, Medicalization, and Responsibilization: A Critical Examination of Mental “Health” in Criminal-Legal Diversion Contexts
Brianna Suslovic, Ph.D. Student, Crown Family School, University of Chicago
Mental health courts offer an alternative to incarceration that converges upon defendants with diagnosed serious mental illnesses. In doing so, their diversion programming reifies medicalizing and criminalizing discourses, reading treatable illness onto body-minds that have been construed as deviant. The discourses of recovery and health in these contexts create logics of care and recovery that often overshadow the logics of social control in these so-called problem-solving courts. Expanding upon Liat Ben-Moshe’s scholarship on incarceration through a disability lens, this conceptual paper articulates several critiques of existing norms and discourses of mental health courts. By developing a disability-informed framework for the category of serious mental illness, this paper raises questions about care, control, and discrimination in this setting. As a central organizing category for mental health courts, the label “serious mental illness” facilitates a flattening of lived experiences, forcing a predetermined narrative of illness and recovery onto individuals whose experiences of disability may not fit within that linear model. By articulating psychiatric disability as a category of analysis, this paper facilitates further exploration of institutional violence within carceral contexts such as mental health courts. The paper engages existing literature on compliance and engagement in mandated treatment to highlight the limitations of a health- or recovery-focused response to harm in these court settings. The paper closes by advancing an abolitionist model of care and responses to harm, arguing that a radical departure from existing modes of punishment and treatment is required.

Discussant: Michele Friedner, Associate Professor, Department of Comparative Human Development, University of Chicago

February 9th (Wednesday, 4:30-6 pm CST) – Joint Session with Medicine and its Object Workshop

Ethnographic Betrayals: Secrecy, Loyalty, and Sovereignty in the Field

Salih Can Açiksoz (guest speaker), Faculty UCLA, Anthropology

Defined by the global surge of the far-right and populist authoritarian leaders, our world-historical moment is flooded with political discourses of betrayal. What does a global political climate pervaded by the many senses of betrayal and treason say about the practice and horizon of anthropology? In this article, I use my fieldwork with the ultranationalist disabled veterans of Turkey’s Kurdish War as a window into thinking through how betrayal can help us spell out the practical, ethico-methodological, and political challenges faced by ethnographers, particularly those working on the far right or under conditions of political violence. Extending the discipline’s methodological debates beyond a focus on the dyadic relation between the ethnographer and the research subjects, I show how ethnographic betrayals are circumscribed by the work of sovereignty and the law.

Discussant: Eman Elshaikh, Ph.D. Student, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago

February 11th (CANCELLED)
Prison Schooling and DisCrit Abolitionist Imaginary
Subini Annamma (guest speaker), Faculty Stanford, Education
Discussant: TBA

February 25th
Opening Hearts and Minds; Becoming a Hà Nội Sign Language Interpreter
Aron Marie, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Comparative Human Development, University of Chicago
In the few cases where the early development of sign language interpreting has been documented, the first interpreters generally have pre-existing relationships with deaf people, either through kinship  (children of deaf adults CODAs being some of the most common early interpreters), or professional ties (teachers or ministers of the deaf). However, in Hà Nội, Việt Nam, despite interpreting being in its very early stages, the majority of sign language interpreters have no prior connection with deaf signing people before they decide to take a sign language class.  In this chapter, I detail the process of becoming an interpreter, examining the way deaf leaders recruit interpreters who can assist with their political project, opening their hearts and minds to the deaf community. I examine the process of becoming an interpreter as a deeply transformative process, whereby novice interpreters radically change their attitudes and beliefs towards deaf people and become embedded in deaf social networks, often to the point where they maintain little to no contact with hearing non-signing friends. The chapter examines what it means for interpreters to belong to the deaf community; arguing that for hearing interpreters in Hà Nội belonging to the deaf community is an all-consuming yet precarious task. I examine how the project of belonging to the deaf community sits in tensions with other forms of belonging Vietnamese women are normatively expected to engage in, and the way the all-consuming nature of belonging to the deaf community makes the experience of leaving the deaf community a profound sense of loss.
Discussant: Ashley Drake, Teaching Fellow, Social Sciences, University of Chicago

March 11th
On Liveliness and Participatory Dwelling: Blind Russians’ Building Their Own Home
Svetlana Borodina (guest speaker), Mellon Teaching Fellow, Harriman Institute, Columbia University
In this talk, I set out to explore the perceived and cultivated liveliness of blind activists in Russia, as well as their work to encourage the formation of lively communities based on participatory dwelling. On the one hand, I am interested in how specific actions and activities of blind people and their sighted allies in Russia facilitate the interlocking between individual and social liveliness as well as provoke individual reckoning about people’s existential and social participatory abilities and obligations. Through linking the individual quality of being lively to the social atmosphere—and expectations—of liveliness, my blind interlocutors change broader cultures of civic participation and social attitudes toward people with disabilities. Here lies my other interest. Namely, I explore the attractiveness of this individual and collective liveliness (organized and cultivated by blind activists) to abled Russians. Specifically, I analyze how the inclusion programming of the Russian blind activists connected to the broader grammar of civic action and intervention that emerged in the mid-2010s in Russia. Through coalitional practical action focused on the improvement of community life for all, people without disabilities were converted into routine allies who would allocate their time and resources to building the world they live in, to tending to it, and dwelling in it. Through this serial engagement, people with and without disabilities cultivated themselves as subjects capable of participating in building own – populated and communally shared – world.
Discussant: Zhiying Ma, Assistant Professor, Crown Family School, University of Chicago

SAVE THE DATE: Call for Papers Disability Studies Workshop Winter 2022

Dear all,

We write to you with the exciting news that after one year of hiatus, the Disability Studies workshop has returned for the 2021-22 academic year! This is a one-quarter CAS workshop that will be held in Winter Quarter 2022 on alternating Fridays from 2:00 PM – 3:20 PM (see flyer attached). Our Faculty sponsors are Michele Friedner from the Department of Comparative Human Development and Sarah Taylor from the Divinity School. This year, the workshop will be coordinated by Zihao Lin and Erika Prado.

We invite works-in-progress that theoretically engage with a disability as a category and experience. We are also open to submissions on issues that do not explicitly use the concept of disability but are closely related, such as injury or illness, studies of cognition and sense-perception, and bodily difference. The workshop would like to provide a platform for work that uses disability as a critical lens to explore wider socio-economic, cultural, and political domains.

We welcome all UChicago members including Ph.D., MAPSS, and undergraduate students and faculty as well as scholars from our neighboring universities and Chicago area community members. In previous years, our participants have come from various disciplines including English, Psychology, Comparative Human Development, Political Science, History, and Social Services Administration.

We invite submissions by graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and faculty across departments within the University of Chicago. The workshop will be open to drafts of dissertation chapters, book chapters, journal articles, dissertation proposals, and conference papers. Alternative presentation formats such as practice job talks are also welcome.

Possible paper topics include but are not limited to:

  • Everyday life with a disability

  • Intersections of disability and other categories of experience (race, gender, sexuality, class, age)

  • Medicine, healthcare, and caregiving

  • Disability and public policy, education, pedagogy, social services

  • Disability, work, and political economy

  • Mental health and disability

  • Disability and war

  • Disability representation in media, literature, music, and the arts

  •  Disability, war, and religion

  •  Disability, legal institutions, and human rights

  • Transnational disability experiences and theories


Please indicate in your submission the following:

1)     A Title

2)     A brief write-up or abstract of 200-300 words describing your work

3)     An indication of the type of submission (Article, paper, book chapter, conference paper, etc.)

Proposals can be submitted to both workshop co-coordinators, Zihao Lin (linzh@uchicago.edu) and Erika Prado (erikaprado@uchicago.edu) by 5 pm on December 17, 2021.

Please get in touch with Zihao Lin and Erika Prado if you have any questions concerning the workshop. Both of us would be happy to discuss how your work fits in with the workshop and its objectives.