Academic Ableism brings together disability studies and institutional critique to recognize the ways that disability is composed in and by higher education, and rewrites the spaces, times, and economies of disability in higher education to place disability front and center. For too long, argues Jay Timothy Dolmage, disability has been constructed as the antithesis of higher education, often positioned as a distraction, a drain, a problem to be solved. The ethic of higher education encourages students and teachers alike to accentuate ability, valorize perfection, and stigmatize anything that hints at intellectual, mental, or physical weakness, even as we gesture toward the value of diversity and innovation. Examining everything from campus accommodation processes, to architecture, to popular films about college life, Dolmage argues that disability is central to higher education, and that building more inclusive schools allows better education for all.
Excellent book and extremely eye-opening. My sole criticism is that the author uses Jack Halberstam’s deadname when citing him (which is done only once), and while Halberstam isn’t too particular about what name people use for him (see his blog post "On Pronouns" for more details), it doesn’t send the greatest message.
Still very much worth your time, especially the last chapter's discussion of how popular media represents disability in collegiate settings. This should be required reading for all university faculty/staff.
This is a powerful book, developing great arguments about Universal Design, multimodality and multiliteracies.
The scale of the ableism in higher education is effectively rendered. But there is a deep analysis of 'easy' ableism and 'easy' arguments about retrofitting higher education to ensure 'access' to our universities.
I was very impressed by the engagement with neoliberalism and the profit-taking imperatives in our universities.
Dolmage explores the structural and institutional aspects of ableism that permeate throughout higher education's present and past. Simply put, the academy does little to include people with disabilities. At the core of this exploration, he illustrates how some bodies are upheld by these aspects and therefore, granted the means to study and pursue knowledge while other bodies are devalued and meant to be the objects of study, often with an insistence to dismiss or cure. It's a brilliant critique that first discusses how the rhetoric of institution spaces highlight the ways institutions create and maintain their spaces as spaces that are not accessible or made accessible through measures that draw attention to those in need of accessible measures (rather than a natural part of structures through practices like universal design).
He pivots into a critical discussion that highlights how Western science during the 1700s and 1800s simultaneously created eugenics, mental asylums, and the modern university. He shows how the concepts of eugenics (good and bad genes and bodies) showed up in both asylums' and institutions' approaches to whom was and wasn't let in while also creating physical spaces (institutional grounds) that mirrored one another in many capacities.
After this setup, he moves into five chapters that create an arc through how institutions and then the world at large deal with and re-presents disabled bodies on their campuses. The first approach is what he refers to as "steep steps"--structures of exclusion on campus that are in place that prohibit or make clear the type of bodies the institution wants on campus. These measures show up in myriad ways across campuses (in my own experience, I remember one campus I worked at where the VP of Students worked in an office that was not accessible by wheelchair). Next, he delves into institutions' attempts to retrofit spaces to include people with disabilities. His critique here highlights the fact that the retrofit is always poorly made, unnecessary draws attention to or creates a still-complicated process for the person with a disability. It reinforces the person does not belong rather.
At this juncture, Dolmage takes a chapter to explore the fictional student; the student that is created in various op-eds or institutional discussions that is a fraud or being done harm by an institution attempting to be inclusive. It draws upon numerous examples of how faculty, pundits, and institutions worry about a fictional student while simultaneously dismissing the real needs of real students. While an invaluable contribution to the book's discussion overall, this chapter in the flow felt a bit off (could have been earlier before the 3 chapter arc of steep steps, retrofitting, and universal design). Dolmage offers an interesting discussion of universal design for learning in which he both praises it as the hallmark while simultaneously seeing how easily UDL can be watered down and infused with neoliberal practices to make it largely meaningless (thus, doing nothing to actually include effectively students or faculty or staff with disabilities). The final chapter explores how disability on campuses shows up in popular films as a means of whitewashing and undermining the ways that it actually exists on campuses. That is because it appears inclusive in popular culture, few actually challenge academia to make it inclusive. In total, it's a damning and damn-good book that anyone interested in higher education should be reading. And since the book intentionally aims to be accessible, it has been published as an open access book so folks can go to the University of Michigan Press website and free download it (the audiobooks is also free on audible).
I really enjoyed engaging with this book. The author is critical, insightful and hopeful about disability studies and activism on campus. He presents options and solutions without reducing inclusion to quick fixes. His critique of the academy is necessary for all participants within it, students, admin, staff and alumni. The way he categorizes higher ed as institutions akin to prisons, psychiatric facilities, and other controlling spaces is evocative and merits deeper reflection. The role that universities play in creating, benefiting from, and excluding folks with disabilities is clearly laid out. We study others and, by turning them into the objects of our study, often disable them. I also appreciated the discussion about disability and faculty. While folks with disabilities may be the largest minority group in society, our higher ed landscape does not focus on these folks when promoting equity, diversity and inclusion in many contexts. This book is a bit dated now. I look forward to new perspectives on academic ableism in higher ed.
Being a differently abled (a term I learned from this book as a wonderful replacement for the rhetorically negated “disabled”) academic, I was very interested in this book. After finishing, I think it should be required reading for every university employee.
The author takes an intersectional approach that probes the depths of ableim. He connects perceptions of disability to the disenfranchisement of BIPOC, women, LGBTQ people, and other marginalized groups who have been connected to “feeble mindedness” and “biological inferiority” by eugenics, a subject still taught in universities today. The author takes off the gloves and explores the appalling history of the academy’s role in eugenics research, in which white colonialists experimented on indigenous peoples and other disadvantaged groups under the guise of science. There is more than a whiff of objectification in a culture in which those with physical, mental and developmental disabilities are the objects of study for professors more often than they themselves are the professors.
The author also does an excellent job probing the toxic rhetoric of ableism, and deconstructing the myth that inclusive space only exists in the static physical realm rather than being a dynamic place where bodies, emotions, ideas, and prejudices move. There is far more to inclusivity than ramps and assistive technology.
In short, this book pulls back the veil on an underexplored topic that encircles and is intertwined with all people who represent the other; the “objects” of diversity and inclusion initiatives more often than the recipients. From critiquing HR practices to limited pedagogical modalities, probing the “universality” of universal design and the psychological affect of space, this book contains many welcome insights that well-meaning people, including myself, are unwittingly shielded from by the dominant culture. The very architectural styles favored by universities even get a critical eye as symbols of oppression: the mountainous staircases and ornate gates that lead to the ivory tower are literal and figurative barriers far too often accessible only to the privileged few, rather than to the diverse multitudes.
This is an important text for any critical scholar. It’s strength lies in framing disability in the academy as a historical and ongoing construction. It also ties ableist discourses and rhetoric to other systemic issues such as racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and eugenic ideology. This book will not offer you many solutions, but will open space for grappling with the complexity of ableism on campus.
Definitely an important read for all faculty, student support staff, and students working and learning in a university setting. The introduction is one of my favorite pieces of writing in disability studies yet. 4 stars because the rest of the book felt a little too redundant after reading the introduction, almost like it was trying to stretch the amazing content of the introduction for all it’s worth to fit the length of a full-length book, rather than adding much that was new in the remaining chapters. Also, despite the author explaining their commitment to write in plain language for access purposes, the language in the rest of the book after the introduction was still a little too elitely academic. Which would make more sense if the book weren’t explicitly claiming to be trying to maximize access by using plain language.
Still, the introduction was worth the entire book’s weight in gold, so for that alone I can’t recommend this book enough!
Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher Education is a great introduction into the ways academia perpetuates ableist ideologies. Of course the book does not cover everything and things are left out and author Jay Timothy Dolmage is very upfront about their failures in the book.
The book is an easy read. There isn't difficult language in the book and descriptions are given to figures/images which I found very helpful. Any words used that might give pause are defined. The only thing I had to look up was some of the movie references.
Why might you read this book? I think it would be helpful in understanding how the institution called academia was built, what it's purpose is and how it relates to eugenics, the role academia has in rape culture, and it might be nice to learn that the academy isn't an agent of change, but rather a place for complacency.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Oh my god - you’ve just got to read this book if you have any connection to education, especially higher ed. This book validates so much of my own experience, which is comforting/therapeutic in a strange way, but the content is also theoretically rich and intellectually satisfying. Wonderful introduction to a lot of current and relevant work in disability studies, and the accessible writing makes connections to a number of fields and clearly outlines the stakes. A lot of my favorite writers are cited which I took to be a good sign.
it was a pretty good book overall i think! some of the parts really resonated with my experiences. i thought it was rather easy to follow, what the author talked about didn't feel abstract or nebulous like it has happened with other books about disability/ableism i've read. AND there were also answers as to how to manage ableism in higher education which i found very useful, i feel like sometimes it's all questioning this and that but what can we do next? and dolmage gives options which is nice
This book is clear and has reshaped my perspective on education and disability. Although this book focuses on higher education, many of its concepts can also be applied to the K-12 school system. I recommend that everyone involved in education read this book.
This book was so informative and hopeful about the future of academia, it also described to a T my current experience with academia. I think the author did an amazing job at exploring academia and it's problems but also where it can improve in the future.
It's free, it's interesting and I think it's a really good start when educating yourself about Ableism. I definitely learned a lot and will try my best to continue educating myself and learning about discrimination in various forms and in various settings.
Potentially eye-opening book for the sordid history of academia. Would appeal most to theory/philosophy-minded folks, though it is fairly read-able. It felt repetitive at times, though, and some of the items analyzed didn't really resonate with me.
Really important concepts that are essential for educators but I couldn’t stand the writing style. The author even said they were going to make a point to try to use accessible language and write in a way easy to follow but that never happened in my opinion.
Solid analysis and unique insights into the "geography of exclusion" in higher ed present in physical space but also pedagogy, assumptions about learners and notions of "accommodation". If you are involved in education in any way, this is an important read.