A Brief Reading List on Disability (and Higher Education)

Greetings, internet! At the end of my previous post, I said that if there was any interest, I’d post an annotated bibliography of things that you could read if you wanted to learn more about disability in higher education. Most of the comments were pro-bibliography (yay!), so I’ve cobbled together a list of articles and books for some background on disability, and then for disability in higher education, in addition to some videos (i.e. TED talks).

Disclaimer: This list is by no means exhaustive. Seriously, I left a lot out. But I’ve found these to be helpful in my own understanding of disability. If you don’t want to buy a book, or if I’ve recommended part of a book or journal, then check to see if the book is at your local library. If not, request it. If that doesn’t work, then sneak into a university library (just be cool and pretend you’re a student/visiting scholar).



  • Kudlick, Catherine J. “Disability History: Why We Need Another ‘Other.’” The American Historical Review 108, no. 3 (June, 2003): 763-793.
    This is one of my favorite go-to articles for why we should study disability. In her review essay, Kudlick argues that the study of disability history (and the field of disability studies in general) “provides scholars with a new analytic tool for exploring power itself” (765), which can complement studies of race and gender. In other words, disability is worth studying because it can shed light on social and power structures in any given location and time (particularly because what counts as a disabling condition varies throughout history). If you want to explore this topic further, then I’d recommend finding a more recent lit review, because this article is from about fifteen years ago. Rosemarie Garland-Thomson has an important article on disability studies, but the most I could find was an excerpt, unless you are a member of a university library. (Note on the link: there’s a PDF of the article if you do a Google search (which is what the link above will take you to), but for some reason I’m having an issue with posting the PDF.)


  • Longmore, Paul K. and Lauri Umansky, introduction to The New Disability History: American Perspectives, ed. by Longmore and Umansky, 1-32. New York: New York University Press, 2001.
    This book is a series of essays pertaining to disability in American history, but for those who don’t have time to read everything, just read the introduction. It covers a brief history of disability studies, which, according to Longmore and Umansky, arose “in response to the medical model’s deficiencies in explaining or addressing the social marginalization and economic deprivation of many people with disabilities” (p. 12). The medical model of disability sees disability as a physical or mental issue that resides in an individual’s body and must be cured or dealt with by that individual (which is how many initially perceive disability). By comparison, the social model sees disability as something socially and culturally constructed (meaning that how disability is perceived changes depending on place and time).


  • Shakespeare, Tom. “The Social Model of Disability,” in The Disability Studies Reader, 4th ed. by Lennard J. Davis, 214-221. Taylor and Francis, 2013.
    If you click the link to the PDF, the page numbers will be different. Sorry about that. This article explains the history of the social model, and how it began in the UK with the Union of Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS) in the 1970s. In 1975, UPIAS wrote, “In our view, it is society which disables physically impaired people. Disability is something imposed on top of our impairments by the way we are unnecessarily isolated and excluded from full participation in society. Disabled people are therefore an oppressed group in society” (p. 267). Impairment and disability, then, are two distinct terms. In other words, impairment is something that affects someone physically or mentally (e.g. blindness, ADHD). It is neutral. Disability, however, is something imposed by a society on account of an impairment (e.g. prevention of those with blindness from applying to teaching jobs). It is subjective. The social model of disability provides a theoretical foundation for disability studies, and, at least for my purposes, disability history.


  • Shapiro, Joseph P. No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement. New York: Times Books, 1993.
    Joseph Shapiro was a U.S. News and World Report journalist covering the disability rights movement when he published this book (he is currently at NPR). The book discusses the daily discrimination that people with disabilities faced prior to passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Because disability history is so often neglected in public school history classes (or at least, it was for me), it’s important to read about the history of the disability advocates who fought for passage of the ADA, just as we’ve read about the Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation movements in the second half of the twentieth century. Think of the curb cuts on the corners of most sidewalks in America. They didn’t pop up overnight. They exist to accommodate wheelchair users and were a result of the ADA. And it took decades of advocating, protesting, and rolling on Capitol Hill (which still happens today!) to get the ADA passed. This book is often assigned in disability studies classes, so I figured it should be here as well. And for those who continue to be interested in the ADA, a book was recently published on it that I haven’t read yet, but hope to at some point soon.


Disability and Higher Education:

  • Hehir, Thomas, Laura A. Schifter, and Wendy S. Harbour. How Did You Get Here?: Students with Disabilities and Their Journeys to Harvard. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2015.
    Hehir, Schifter, and Harbour’s book interviews sixteen students with disabilities about their experiences in K-12 education and getting to college. Jim Ryan, HGSE’s dean, sums up the book nicely in his review: “with the right expectations, accommodations, and support, the potential of students with disabilities is boundless.” Through interviews, students stress how significant their mothers were in their educational careers (because mothers are warriors when it comes to fighting for inclusive education), the importance of having teachers who place high expectations on them, the significance of technology (e.g. audio text), and the obstacles students overcame when teachers or administrators underestimated their capabilities (one student explained how she had to argue with a guidance counselor to get placed into a more advanced class in eighth grade (75)). This is more of a K-12 book, but I’d argue that it demonstrates the particular difficulties faced by students with disabilities (which generally have more to do with institutional ableism than the disabilities themselves) simply to get through K-12 and apply to college.





  • Ohajunwa, Chioma, Judith Mckenzie, Anneli Hardy, and Theresa Lorenzo, “Inclusion of Disability Issues in Teaching and Research in Higher Education.” Perspectives in Education 32, no. 3 (2014): 104-117.
    This article argues that the lack of disability inclusion in the curricula at institutions of higher education may perpetuate the stigma of disability and discrimination against people with disabilities. The authors write, “There is a need to create awareness regarding disability issues in curricula so that university graduates can challenge the barriers that exclude disabled people from mainstream activities” (p. 105). After conducting interviews of professors, authors point out that faculty members who include disability in their curricula usually do so because of their own interest in the topic. Other lecturers say that they found it difficult to know where to add disability in the curricula. You can read the article excerpt here. If you’re curious about this subject, then here is a link to one of the more cited review essays on the subject (apologies that I’m linking to another academic journal).


  • Perry, David M. “How Academic Jobs Screen Out Disabled People.” Pacific Standard, February 14, 2017. Accessed June 6, 2017. https://psmag.com/news/how-academic-jobs-screen-out-disabled-people
    David Perry is a former medieval history professor who also writes about current disability issues. Ever read a job description that requires that the applicant be able to lift 20 pounds? Jobs in academia say that they don’t discriminate based on disability, but menial requirements like being able to lift a certain amount of weight would suggest otherwise. This article examines only job descriptions from Holy Cross College, but the problem is far more widespread. Perry has spoken with legal counsel at the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, and they agree: “Human resources directors cannot just pile up physical demands that are not linked to the core requirements of the job.”


  • Vance, Mary Lee, Neal E. Lipsitz, and Kaela Parks (eds.). Beyond the Americans with Disabilities Act: Inclusive Policy and Practice for Higher Education. Washington, D.C.: NASPA, Inc., 2014.

    Oslund, Christy M. Disability Services and Disability Studies in Higher Education: History, Contexts, and Social Impacts. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
    If you plan to become a disability services administrator (or any higher education administrator), then the former is necessary reading. The first chapter, by former civil rights attorney Paul Grossman, explains how the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) affects accommodations for students with disabilities in higher education. The rest of the book has essays that discuss invisible disabilities, veteran students who may have disabilities, the importance of collaboration between administrators, and everything else an administrator ought to know when it comes to disability. The title of the book, Beyond the Americans with Disabilities Act, suggests that there are two ways to accommodate disability in higher education – compliance and beyond compliance. With compliance, you give students the bare minimum, which may not be equal to what nondisabled students receive. For example, a student who needs course readings in an alternate format may have to wait weeks for the alternate format (because the disability services office outsourced the text conversion job to a third party), while their classmates can do the course readings immediately. When you go above compliance, students with and without disabilities have equitable experiences. A disability services office could create alternate formats within their own office (which is not all that expensive), and the student could have the course readings the same week as that of their nondisabled peers.
    The Oslund book is not as necessary, but it provides some background about disability services in general, and may be of interest for those who would like more of a history of the position.

Background videos for those who prefer video format:

  • Judith Heumann’s “Our Fight for Disability Rights and Why We’re Not Done Yet
    Judith Heumann is a legend when it comes to disability rights. She tells the story of how she wanted to be a teacher, but was denied her license even though she had passed the oral and written exams. Because her polio had caused paralysis of her lower extremities (in other words, because she used a wheelchair), she failed the medical exam. She then sued the Board of Education and won. Her talk places the disability rights movement alongside the civil rights and women’s rights movements, and how people with disabilities wanted to emulate these movements. Heumann also describes a brief history of important disability legislation, and how much farther we have to go. Heumann: “We know discrimination when we see it, and we need to be fighting it together.”


  • Stella Young’s “I’m Not Your Inspiration, Thank You Very Much
    Stella Young was a badass in the disability community. She, I believe, first coined the term “inspiration porn,” and she uses the term deliberately. Examples of inspiration porn include slogans such as, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude,” to which Young will inform her audience that no amount of smiling at a flight of stairs will turn it into a ramp. Inspiration porn objectifies people with disabilities for the benefit of the able-bodied. For instance, the able-bodied will see a picture of an amputee swimmer and think, “Oh, I shouldn’t feel so bad about my life. At least I’m not like that. I should quit complaining.” Or they’ll think, “How inspiring!” and will feel momentarily uplifted by this image of supposed perseverance (or as those with disabilities call it, “living our lives”).


  • Maysoon Zayid, “I Got 99 Problems…Palsy is Just One
    Maysoon Zayid is the co-founder of the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival, and she’s hilarious. I’d write more about her talk, but I don’t want to ruin her jokes. Just do yourself a favor and watch the video or read the transcript.

Again, this list is by no means exhaustive. I chose to stick with a general background and then higher education just because those are things I’ve looked into (in addition to three of my favorite disability TED talks). Feel free to leave any articles/books you’ve found helpful in the comments, and I hope you have a chance to learn a bit more about disability!

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