As an educator, I underscore access as pedagogy. Access is a central tenet of disability culture, ranging from providing multi-modal entry points to pedagogical materials to recognizing individual students’ interests and learning styles. My creative work focuses on disability as a creative source, stemming from my experience acquiring a disability, and therefore, throughout pedagogical activity, I incorporate values and practices from disability culture that can serve learners across backgrounds and identities.
Practices from disability culture include interdependence (exploring naturally collaborative ways to undertake new projects), accessibility practices (such as image descriptions and sign language interpretation), and exploring multi-modal ways of presenting work (such as nonsynchronous formats for physical and financial accessibility). These values offer an essential expansion of taking in artistic works and teaching material while intersecting with and advancing ideals of correlated identities and experiences.
Additionally, I strive to recognize and enhance students’ interests, create a learning environment with clear, fair expectations and equitable opportunity, and foster cross-cultural diversity and understanding. I deeply value objective classroom and teaching practices that allow all students to thrive regardless of skill level or background. Inviting consistent participation, sharing student interests, and collaboration advances these goals and values.
My motivation for incorporating disability culture comes from my experience acquiring a disability, as well as discovering the social model of disability. At the age of seven, I was involved in a car accident that nearly amputated my left hand, and following the accident, I journeyed from denying to embracing my disability. Included in my development was discovering the social model of disability, which identifies barriers that socially construct the notion of disability, including physical obstacles such as stairs instead of a ramp for wheelchair access and attitudes that do not recognize the spectrum of disability as invisible to visible, temporary to permanent, and congenital to acquired. Learning more about this model was enlightening, as it forced me to realize false social constructions similar to race, gender, sexuality, and normativity overall. I therefore believe it is crucial to cultivate a learning community that values all lived voices and access as a pedagogical tool to make opportunities and content as equitable and accessible as possible.
Engagement with Students
I aim to foster a learning environment that values all lived experiences, specifically re-envisioning normative social models and the aforementioned access as pedagogy. I implement this by providing samples and frameworks of music across genres through the material I present or by inviting students to share examples. This has resulted in students presenting work that reflects their backgrounds and interests, such as disability stigmatization within Hispanic communities for Disability and the Arts and Broadway music examples for second-inversion chords in Music Theory. I also invite guest artists across identities to present work to share practices of working artists across a range of experiences and perspectives, and with recent guests including Jerron Herman, Finnegan Shannon, and Angélica Negrón. With access, I make material cross-sensory accessible by providing visual and spoken output, such as visual PowerPoint slides (for visual learners and Deaf/hard-of-hearing users), spoken image and video descriptions, and high-contrast slides (for aural learners and blind/low-vision users). I often engage students in accessibility exercises, such as creating image, audio, and sound descriptions, to creatively practice making artistic work cross-sensory accessible and equitable. I believe these efforts are recognized in a recent student comment via email: “This class is where I feel I can truly be myself without being judged by anyone…as well as fully bringing others into the awareness of issues disabled people have.”
Finally, throughout engagement with students, I strive to provide a variety of learning modes and explore multi-modal ways of presenting work. This ranges from online teaching with Berklee Online and Wagner College, where pedagogical activities spanned live Zoom classes and activities within those (breakout rooms, surveys, guest speakers), to in-person classes at New York University with guest instrumental musicians for Orchestration to getting out of the classroom with teaching disability arts at Wagner College, such as having students find inaccessible architecture and structures throughout the built campus.
Throughout this range of teaching activities and learning styles, I aim to recognize and enhance students’ interests, create a learning environment with clear, fair expectations and equitable opportunity, and foster cross-cultural diversity and understanding while underscoring access as pedagogy. Through this combination, I believe an objective and accessible learning environment that values all lived voices and provides equitable learning opportunities can be created and valued.