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.
Fig. 1. “Postcard: Approach to Rensselaer.” Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Library Archives, 1910. This postcard image depicts a set of more than 80 steep stone stairs at the public entrance to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.
Fig. 2. Tom Olin, “Day in Court for Americans with Disabilities Protests Planned over Supreme Court’s ADA Rulings.” March 1990. Reprinted with permission. Disabled protesters climbing the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Two bodies make their way up the steep stairs, leaving crutches and assistive devices at the bottom of the stairs.
Fig. 3. “Exhibit of Work and Educational Campaign for Juvenile Mental Defectives.” American Philosophical Society, 1906. A hand-drawn diagram titled “Steps in Mental Development: Where They Stumble—the limit of development of each type.” The drawing shows five people, each stationed on a staircase. Each ascending step represents a different stage in human mental development as it relates to the ability to perform different types of work. The steps from bottom to top are (1) “Self-Preservation / Idiot (mentally 3 years old and under).” The figure depicted is a young man seated on the floor, legs out, head down. (2) “Simple Menial Work/ Low Grade Imbecile (mentally 4 to 5 years old)” depicted by a young woman leaning heavily against the step, looking down; (3) “Simple Manual Work/ Medium Imbecile (mentally 6 to 8 years old)”, depicted by a man standing against the step, leaning slightly, eyes down; (4) “Complex Manual Work/ High Grade Imbecile (mentally 8 to10 years old)” depicted by a young woman standing up, elbows bent, eyes looking up; and (5) “Work Requiring Reason and Judgment/Moron (mentally 10 to 12 years old)”, depicted by a young man leaning on the high step as though working at a desk.
Fig. 6. “Katie Lalley’s Access Ramp.” Courtesy of SWNS.com. Column 1. Affective Networks—the “why” of learning [the image is a side view of the brain with an area in the middle highlighted.] How learners get engaged and stay motivated. How they are challenged, excited, or interested. These are affective dimensions. Stimulate interest and motivation for learning. Provide Multiple Means of Engagement. Column 2: Strategic Networks—the “how” of learning [the image is a side view of the brain with an area at the front highlighted.] Planning and performing tasks. How we organize and express our ideas. Writing an essay or solving a math problem are strategic tasks. Differentiate the ways students can express what they know. Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression. Column 3: Recognition Networks—the “what” of learning. [the image is a side view of the brain with a large area at the back and side highlighted.] How we gather facts and categorize what we see, hear, and read. Identifying letters, words, or an author’s style are recognition tasks. Present information and content in different ways. Provide Multiple Means of Representation.
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