Book Review: Academic Ableism

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by James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

As you settle into summer break, consider adding Jay Dolmage’s recent book on disability and higher education to your reading list. Academic Ableism (2017) offers a fresh and informed perspective on the historically complicated relationship between disability and higher education. Dolmage, an Associate Professor of English at the University of Waterloo, provides a concise overview of disability studies for anyone new to this growing interdisciplinary body of scholarship. In doing so, he develops disability as a critical framework for examining everything from curriculum design to the built environment in which teaching and learning happens. An important feature of this book is its attention to the shifting, often contradictory discourses of disability that work to push students with disabilities to the margins while also advocating for their full access and inclusion. As such, Dolmage does not shy away from critiquing institutions of higher education for failing to “pay attention to how ableism occurs, and when, and to whom, and to what effect” (p. 39). What makes his book distinct is the many strategies and resources it includes for responding to academic ableism in ways that can lead to systemic change.

Many of the resources identified in the book focus on teaching and learning at the course level, department or program level, and institution level. The entire book is open access and includes an appendix with several Universal Design teaching ideas. You can read the book online and access the appendix and supplemental materials by clicking here [LINK]. If you have limited reading time, I recommend prioritizing the introduction (pp. 1-39) and the chapter on Universal Design (pp. 115-151). Each will offer complementary views of how inclusive course design and teaching practices can help challenge structural ableism in higher education.

If you would like to discuss the ideas in the book or Universal Design for Learning, please contact the Reinert Center to schedule a consultation by clicking here [LINK]. You can also explore related resources on our website by clicking here [LINK].

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