John Lee Clark’s latest essay in McSweeney is a masterpiece. I read it not once, not twice, but thrice. There is such a deep chewiness in that piece, much like thick gooey warm chocolate chip cookies. So much deliciousness and comfort on a waning autumn day.
I loved it for three reasons. The way he writes; his words envelop you and carry you into a different world. There’s a sublime sensory quality to his writing. Beyond the poetic qualities of his prose, his essay does two important things.
It demands an accounting of what we mean by good access practices. I also appreciate when something I read nudges me to think about or do things differently. This essay, it’s as if JLC himself sat next to me and elbowed me in the ribs. Oof.
I’m suddenly thinking about those visual descriptions I’ve done on video in zoom meetings in the age of Covid-19. Doing those visual descriptions suddenly feels so performative. Who are we really doing this for? What do we assume when we describe ourselves on camera?
Perhaps I should begin by describing myself textually. You might find my hands smooth, small, fleshy, and short fingered with no edges, nails cut to the quick.
The essay asks us to think about what we’ve learned about access and best access practices. Who did we learn about those practices from? Perhaps most important is: what do we need to unlearn?
“Access, then, is akin to nonreciprocal assimilation, with its two possible outcomes: death by fitting in or death by failing to fit in.”
Clark describes exactly what I hope for sign language interpreters to become. Access accomplices. Access accomplices rather than tools of the system that imagines interpreters to be neutral apolitical conduits of language from-modality-to-different-modality. Access accomplices is something that lies beyond the notion of the Ally Interpreter.
Interpreters, interpreter educators, and all involved in access work, go marinate in Clark’s essay. What might you do to transform your teaching and access practices?