Valuing disability in higher education

A young man stands between library book shelves. He has a large book open in his hands.The philosophical perspective of this paper could be applied in other areas of life, not just higher education. Benjamin Ostiguy applies the concept of “Deep Ecology” to argue that everyone and everything has an intrinsic value, but that many societies only measure value by how it contributes to the economy. Students with disability are still considered as “outliers” and as persons who must “transcend” their perceived impairments if they are to belong. Ostiguy argues that valuing disability can lead to the “identification of novel veins of inquiry, bolster critical analyses, and help facilitate meaningful change in uncertain times”. The title of the paper is, The Inherent Value of Disability in Higher Education.  10 points to consider based on Deep Ecology thinking are:
1. Employ accessible and inclusive pedagogies, methods, technologies, and research instruments;
2. Avoid adherence to rigid standards and traditional practices absent of “intrinsic value” or unrelated to “fundamental goals”;
3. Before adopting a new or trendy technology, method, or instrument, first consider if SWDs will find it accessible and inclusive;
4. Recognize and value the diverse identities, perspectives, strengths, and challenges represented among college SWDs; cultivate an awareness of intersectional oppressions (e.g., ableism and homophobia);
5. Understand that SWDs are a heterogeneous demographic with identities, priorities, expectations, opinions, and access requirements differing within
and among specific disability “types”. Note that perspectives on disability vary and evolve, so what is deemed appropriate or supportive may/will
vary by generation, culture/ethnicity (e.g., international students), and social/historical context;
6. Employ the concept of universal design in all aspects of your work, including teaching, assessment, research, and service;
7. Develop research questions that account for SWDs and accurately represent/address their perspectives, needs, and sense of dignity;
8. When faced with apparent pedagogic/epistemological dilemmas, err on the side of accessibility and inclusion;
9. Speak out against campus policies, procedures, and traditions that are not universally inclusive, or otherwise stigmatize SWDs;
10. Reject the idea that a student’s value to a campus or academic discipline is proportional with their apparent potential to contribute toward the economy and the upward distribution of wealth.

Abstract: Evidence suggests that college students with disabilities (SWDs) continue to encounter attitudinal and physical barriers while institutions endeavor to offer reasonable supports—mainly in the form of accommodations and modifications. In practice, disability is largely treated as something external and ancillary, with most colleges administering measured allowances, but otherwise managing to avoid change. However, as we proceed into the 21st century, very little seems assured, least of all the status quo. Under the dominant neoliberal regime, virtually everything and everyone is valued in proportion with their perceived economic utility. No longer is higher education widely embraced as a public good. Instead, there is increased scrutiny of the academe with an eye for “value added”, and the returns students can expect with regard to careers and earning potential. Viewed through this narrow hegemonic lens, SWDs must assimilate or transcend their perceived impairments if they are to belong. In this commentary, I introduce key concepts from the environmental philosophy/theory of Deep Ecology to the scholarship of disability in higher education and assert that disability in academe has an “intrinsic value”, irrespective of expected economic utility. I conclude by discussing ways that the deep valuing of disability can lead to the identification of novel veins of inquiry, bolster critical analyses, and help facilitate meaningful change in uncertain times.

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