### (un)Accessible Astronomy: Ableism in Science

My self-directed, community-supported (re)education about US-American society has fueled my focus on, and pursuit of, social justice. I believe that a just society allows all members to have equal opportunities for success in life, and equal access to social, political and economic opportunities and power. This should be regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion—and sadly that's where these statements of social justice too often end. What is often missing, even in my own thinking until relatively recently, is an acknowledgement that physical and mental dis ability must be included in this list

Racism is a double standard that breaks along racial lines, while sexism does the same for gender. Heterosexism and transphobia have their own ugly double standards, as does religious intolerance such as Islamophobia and antisemitism. Perhaps more important is that this double standard breaks only one way: badly for those who are not white, male, cisgender, heteronormative, Christians*...who are able-bodied. These are all identities with large collections of unearned privileges: opportunities, access to power, the benefit of the doubt, positive stereotypes and expectations, exceptions from punishment. You know, all the good things, from bonuses to basic human rights. All of these also represent separate axes of privilege on one side, and oppression on the other.

 Jesse (top, center) doing astronomy outreach with kids
Enter ableism. Or difficulty of entrance for the disabled, both figuratively and literally. One's physical ability should not be a qualification for gainful employment or access to political action. Specifically within the sciences, "a significant barrier still remains: the erroneous assumption that ableness is a prerequisite for scientific achievement."

These words are part of the alarm bell eloquently raised by astronomer Jesse Shannahan, who is doing her graduate work at Wesleyan University, splitting her time working on galaxies and protoplanetary disks. I met Jesse last year, first online (@Enceladosaurus) and then IRL when she visited the Center for Astrophysics. We had a wide-ranging discussion about social justice in which I learned that she is a white person who is putting in The Work to separate her white identity from Whiteness and its underlying assumptions of supremacy. Last year I worked with her and her advisor Merideth Hughes to organize an antiracism workshop at Wesleyan last summer in conjunction with the Banneker Institute. The lessons I learned there inform my activism today in very meaningful ways.

In our conversation last summer I also learned of Jesse's physical disabilities and the myriad ways that institutional and systemic barriers are literally and figuratively placed in her path. It was eye-opening for me. It is this sort of dialog, partnering and community-building across lines of oppression/privilege that are the requisite ingredients for efficacy in our activism. With friends, one is motivated—nay filled with a sense of urgency to self-educate about other axes of oppression in order to help ones sisters and brothers. In my journey, I have much learning to do, including the ways that I have messed up in the past by, e.g., not making my classroom more accessible and doubting the needs of students with disabilities.

Fortunately, people like Jesse—people who happen to have disabilities—are there to speak up and speak out, thereby educating those of us with privileges and inspiring us to action. Here is the rest of Jesse's excellent essay on ableism in the sciences, published in Science Magazine. An excerpt:

When I began my master's program in astronomy, I immediately encountered a substantial—and quite literal—obstacle to my pursuit of the cosmos: a flight of stairs. I have a physical disability, and stairs are a particular source of difficulty. Unfortunately, they lie in front of every entrance to the building where I take classes, teach labs, and conduct research. The four observatories I have visited for my research were all equally inaccessible, mostly because their age and historic significance exempt them from Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. So, besides coping with the stress and workload of graduate school, I must also struggle with architecture. Thankfully, I am mobile enough to make do by climbing slowly or using a cane, but it takes a toll.
The barriers don't end once I've reached the top of the stairs.
Say it with me, y'all: Disability does not preclude excellent science!

# Disability is not a disqualification

* While Christians receive huge privileges in larger society, and therefore in most contexts, I recognize that these privileges don't generally extend into academic science, particularly at the interpersonal level. This can be harmful, particularly for Black scientists since church communities often provide much-needed social networks and other coping strategies in otherwise oppressively white spaces (see Holbrook 2012).

Jessica Mink said…
I've been on a couple of panels with Jesse, the latest two weeks ago at the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at Wesleyan. She and my blind astronomer friend Wanda Diaz Merced are making strong cases that we have to change not just our attitudes, but our physical environments to become inclusive.

### On the Height of J.J. Barea

Dallas Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea standing between two very tall people (from: Picassa user photoasisphoto).

Congrats to the Dallas Mavericks, who beat the Miami Heat tonight in game six to win the NBA championship.

Okay, with that out of the way, just how tall is the busy-footed Maverick point guard J.J. Barea? He's listed as 6-foot on NBA.com, but no one, not even the sports casters, believes that he can possibly be that tall. He looks like a super-fast Hobbit out there. But could that just be relative scaling, with him standing next to a bunch of extremely tall people? People on Yahoo! Answers think so---I know because I've been Google searching "J.J. Barea Height" for the past 15 minutes.

So I decided to find a photo and settle the issue once and for all.

I then used the basketball as my metric. Wikipedia states that an NBA basketball is 29.5 inches in circumfe…

### The Force is strong with this one...

Last night we were reviewing multiplication tables with Owen. The family fired off doublets of numbers and Owen confidently multiplied away. In the middle of the review Owen stopped and said, "I noticed something. 2 times 2 is 4. If you subtract 1 it's 3. That's equal to taking 2 and adding 1, and then taking 2 and subtracting 1, and multiplying. So 1 times 3 is 2 times 2 minus 1."

I have to admit, that I didn't quite get it at first. I asked him to repeat with another number and he did with six: "6 times 6 is 36. 36 minus 1 is 35. That's the same as 6-1 times 6+1, which is 35."

Ummmmm....wait. Huh? Lemme see...oh. OH! WOW! Owen figured out

x^2 - 1 = (x - 1) (x +1)

So $6 \times 8 = 7 \times 7 - 1 = (7-1) (7+1) = 48$. That's actually pretty handy!

You can see it in the image above. Look at the elements perpendicular to the diagonal. There's 48 bracketing 49, 35 bracketing 36, etc... After a bit more thought we…

### The Long Con

Hiding in Plain Sight

ESPN has a series of sports documentaries called 30 For 30. One of my favorites is called Broke which is about how professional athletes often make tens of millions of dollars in their careers yet retire with nothing. One of the major "leaks" turns out to be con artists, who lure athletes into elaborate real estate schemes or business ventures. This naturally raises the question: In a tightly-knit social structure that is a sports team, how can con artists operate so effectively and extensively? The answer is quite simple: very few people taken in by con artists ever tell anyone what happened. Thus, con artists can operate out in the open with little fear of consequences because they are shielded by the collective silence of their victims.
I can empathize with this. I've lost money in two different con schemes. One was when I was in college, and I received a phone call that I had won an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas. All I needed to do was p…