On Disabled Faculty at AAUP

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January 18, 2013 by badacademic2

An excellent article from the AAUP’s Academe magazine called “Extreme Bold” in the Faculty Ranks.

The unfriendly nature of academia to disabled students also means that academia is unfriendly to disabled faculty. And sometimes, openly hostile. Definitely worth reading….

Picture the professor with her motorized wheelchair facing a lecture hall with a raised stage, accessible only by means of stairs. A little later, she finds the adjacent restrooms are also not accessible. In my case, as a visually impaired faculty member I daily face digital domains crucial to teaching that remain inaccessible. A deaf friend who teaches at a major midwestern university tells me her horror stories associated with obtaining classroom accommodations to help her teach. Imagine that you are a junior member of the faculty, aiming to demonstrate your effectiveness in front of a class—and the very things you need to do your job are caught up in a slow and grudging bureaucracy.


One assumption, still widely held by college and university faculty, is that students who require accommodations are, by their very presence, interfering with the noble and time-honored pedagogical footrace of traditional teaching. Many faculty members still view academic accommodations for learning disabilities and special provisions for assistive technologies or note taking or the like as representing a form of cheating the system. I’ve even heard faculty members claim that students who need extra time shouldn’t take their classes because these courses are about deadlines. One professor claimed that sharing his reading list in advance of the semester, as a means of ensuring that accessible materials could be generated for a blind student, violated his academic freedom. I’ve heard other faculty members dismiss the inaccessibility of websites and course-management software as not their problem—the “problem” lies, I guess, with the student or perhaps with some sub-rosa office where they take care of these things.


But could we imagine the university posting a sign on a major building that says, “No women” or “No people of color”? How is it possible for faculty members to work in a building that houses crucial area studies yet violates federal and state civil rights laws? Why was it so difficult for the students to secure this legally mandated accommodation?


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