Disability and the University

A Disabled Students’ Manifesto

by Christopher McMaster (Volume editor) Benjamin Whitburn (Volume editor)
©2019 Textbook XII, 202 Pages


Disability and the University: A Disabled Students’ Manifesto is a guide to what students with disabilities need to know about attending university, as well as to the essentials universities should provide for these students. Each chapter presents a benchmark for students to follow as they travel through the institution, and lays clear what they should expect. Written by former students with disabilities who have traversed the terrain and experienced higher education, this book is not about disabled students, but instead is a manifesto, a call for change, a call to action. It is a guide book, blueprint, and tool for both students and universities.
Disability and the University is divided into four parts, each examining crucial aspects of higher education, including the culture of the academy, movement beyond the limits of compliance, access to and in the institution, and disability rights. Each chapter is a statement of what every institution of higher education should provide for disabled students.
While every country has its own practice and laws based on its own experience, arbitrary national boundaries should no longer be a reason for practices that do not meet student needs. Disability and the University speaks across borders, and leaves no doubt about what needs to be done to develop more inclusive teaching and learning spaces.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword (Mike Oliver)
  • Part One: Culture of the Academy
  • Chapter One: Political Struggle for Inclusion in Higher Education (Ben Whitburn / Christopher McMaster)
  • Chapter Two: Slowness, Disability, and Academic Productivity: The Need to Rethink Academic Culture (Travis Chi Wing Lau)
  • Chapter Three: Disability Advocacy Within the Ableist Environment of Academia (Denise Beckwith)
  • Chapter Four: The Violent Consequences of Disclosure … and How Disabled and Mad Students are Pushing Back (Fady Shanouda)
  • Chapter Five: Negotiating the Space of Academia as a Disabled Student (Leechin Heng)
  • Chapter Six: Disability Studies in Higher Education: Developing Identity and Community (Megan Zahneis)
  • Part Two: Compliance and Accommodations
  • Chapter Seven: Beyond Compliance: Disabled Student Activism on Campus (Justin Freedman / Laura Jaffee / Katie Roquemore / Yosung Song / Hetsie Swartz Veitch)
  • Chapter Eight: Reasonable Adjustments (George Low)
  • Chapter Nine: But You Look Fine: Limitations of the Letter of Accommodation (Zoie Sheets)
  • Chapter Ten: Universalizing International Exchange for Students with Disabilities (Justin Harford)
  • Chapter Eleven: The Need for Systemic Supports: Barriers Faced by Students with Disabilities in the Majority World (Mostafa Attia)
  • Part Three: The Physical Environment
  • Chapter Twelve: “I Can’t Even Reach the Waffle-maker!”: Increasing Access for Students with Physical Disabilities on University Campus (April B. Coughlin)
  • Chapter Thirteen: Assistance Dogs and Academia: Supporting the Dynamic Duo (Georgia Geller)
  • Chapter Fourteen: A Hierarchy of Impairments: The Absence of Body Size in Disability Accommodations Within Universities (Erin Pritchard)
  • Chapter Fifteen: Creating an Accessible and Resilient Environment Inside the Indian University (Boopathi P. / Muruganandan K.)
  • Part Four: Access and Rights
  • Chapter Sixteen: Disabled by Society: Knowing and Invoking Your Rights (Katelin Anderson / Beth Rogers)
  • Chapter Seventeen: Identifying and Eliminating Digital Barriers (Karen McCall)
  • Chapter Eighteen: Navigating the Mud of Tertiary Education: The Experience of Disabled Students at Universities in the Global South (Tafadzwa Rugoho)
  • Chapter Nineteen: Even the Delusional Can Learn: The Recognition of Diverse States of Mind, Knowing and Being (Maree Roche)
  • Chapter Twenty: From Classification to Culture: Learning Disabilities in Higher Education (Matthew Bereza)
  • Contributors

| xi →


In 2017 I returned to my old university to deliver an open lecture. I had spent many happy years there as an undergraduate, postgraduate and then lecturer in the 1970s and early 1980s. The changes I saw that day were surprising to say the least. There were new buildings and people everywhere and the campus seemed much larger and much busier than I had remembered it.

University life was much more relaxed when I turned up as an undergraduate in 1972. There were just over 5000 students on campus and throughout the 10 years I spent studying and working there I only met 4 other disabled students and one lecturer who used a wheelchair.

As a disabled wheelchair user back in 1972 I quickly found that the built environment of the campus made no concessions to my mobility needs; only one of the 4 colleges had a lift and there were no ramps, dropped curbs or reserved parking spaces. Nor did I expect any at that time and I spent years being lifted to wherever I needed to go by fellow students. My life was made easier, too, by helpful porters, cleaners and catering staff willing to go the extra mile with help and support.

Additionally, no concessions were made to accessing the curriculum; there was no extra time in exams, no support staff working with disabled students and no information in other mediums. Such things simply did not exist at that time and there were no expectations that there should be from the authorities or students themselves.

During my recent visit there were more than 20,000 students on campus of whom more than 2,500 were disabled. There were many more buildings, built or ← xi | xii → being built often where green spaces used to be, and the campus was much more crowded with people rushing everywhere.

The growth I encountered on my return was very impressive and not just in size and numbers. The information and support currently available to disabled people wanting to study and work at the university was also remarkable. There was a Student Support & Wellbeing Team employing over 120 staff full and part-time, and they provided a whole range of services including educational support, mentoring, study skills tuition and support groups to students.

So where did this all come from? In my view there have been 2 main drivers. The first of these has been the sheer determination of increasing numbers of disabled people to access all of the things that non-disabled people take for granted. All over the world disabled people have been coming together collectively and demanding that they be able to take their rightful place in the societies in which they live.

The second driver has been to place the experiences of disabled people center stage both in developing economic and social policies generally and specifically opening up access to universities to all disabled people who wanted to study and work there. Facilitating this has been the development of disability studies as an academic discipline in its own right countering the individualistic and over-medicalized approaches which existed before.

But, of course, the changes noted above over the last 50 years couldn’t have happened without the willingness of university authorities to accommodate all this. It would be wrong, however, to assume that nothing further needs to done and that all universities have become barrier free environments in the broadest sense of the term to all disabled people across the world. We should also note that global austerity policies have reversed some of the positive changes we have seen over the past fifty years.

Disability and the University: A Disabled Students’ Manifesto makes a positive contribution to taking these changes into the future and hopefully reversing some of the cuts already made or planned. It is based on the real-life experiences of those who have been there and done it. It also confronts outdated notions about what disabled people need and how best to prove it. Finally, it serves as a guide to what needs to be done in the future so that, those looking back in 50 years time, will be as pleasantly surprised then as I am now about the changes that have taken place.

Mike Oliver

London, UK


| 1 →

Culture OF THE Academy

| 3 →

Political Struggle FOR Inclusion IN Higher Education



Political struggle is what has led to people with disabilities gaining access to higher education institutions worldwide—an agonism that may have commenced in the 20th century, but one that knows no end, and knows no parameter. Throughout history, collective identity has provided the catalyst for challenging exclusionary cultures of higher education through joint mobilisation, most notably in relation to racial inequalities, as well as discrimination on grounds of gender and disability. Let’s open with an exemplar from the United States. Having been informed, “we tried cripples, and they don’t work” (quoted in Patterson, 2012, p. 478) by an administrator at the University of California at Berkeley, Ed Roberts made history by successfully litigating for admission. It was the early 1960s and Roberts, who became quadriplegic after contracting polio in his teens, took up residence in the Cowell Memorial Hospital for want of accessible lodgings, from which he attended classes. Support at the time was ad hoc, funding precarious, and staff often did not understand their roles and responsibilities to provide Roberts’s access to learning. But in the words of a Nobel laureate whose musical phrasing regularly references social injustices, inequalities and moral atrocities, the times they were a’ changing.

Roberts worked—his attendance forced the university to scrutinise its culture—its own physical environment and its practices. However, this realisation ← 3 | 4 → would take collective effort. As Patterson (2012) writes, Roberts was soon joined in Cowell by seven other students with physical impairments. Though segregated in their makeshift home, they created a student hangout replete with poster covered walls, an improvised beer room, and a pool table. Work, for the residents of Cowell, was both intellectual and social. Through ongoing comparison, they soon realised “the remarkable presence of relationships founded on shared experiences of disability” (Patterson, 2012, p. 479). As a group they adopted the moniker the “Rolling Quads,” which as Patterson describes, was branded as “a coalition of disabled students determined to increase accessibility across campus, build a residence outside of the hospital, and secure financial assistance for personal care attendants” (p. 480). Successful to this end, the group evolved into an effective political force, a disability rights group that lobbied for the creation of a student support model, the Disabled Student’s Program (DSP).

The DSP attained a federal grant, which would ensure that their contribution to cultural change would be set in stone. As Patterson (2012, p. 480) writes:

The Berkeley example was a forerunner of present-day student support offices at higher education institutions internationally. In the 1970s the Rolling Quads went on to turn their attentions to broader community interests away from the university, lobbying successfully to break down physical barriers to city facilities.

Across the Atlantic, similar political actions were taking place. The Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS), an organisation formed exclusively by disabled people, published a manifesto of their own in 1976 entitled the Fundamental Principles of Disability. For UPIAS, similar to the Rolling Quads, the principal cause of exclusion for people with disabilities was not their impairments, but the barriers that prevent them from participating freely in society on par with able-bodied people. It is worth quoting them at large to clarify their sitpoint (quoted in Oliver, 2009, p. 43):


XII, 202
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XII, 202 pp.

Biographical notes

Christopher McMaster (Volume editor) Benjamin Whitburn (Volume editor)

Christopher McMaster, PhD, is the author of Educating All: Developing Inclusive School Cultures from Within (Peter Lang). He is the creator and lead editor of the Survive and Succeed postgraduate student support series, with editions published on the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Scandinavia. Dr. McMaster has most recently been Assistant Professor of Education of Special Education at Augsburg College, Minneapolis, USA. He has since returned to his adopted home of New Zealand where he teaches in the local community on a Pacific voyaging canoe and writes novels. Benjamin Whitburn, PhD, lectures in inclusive education at Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia, in the undergraduate and postgraduate teacher education programs. He has published a body of literature in the field of disability studies in education that explores in particular how knowledge on disability translates to policy and practice in diverse educational contexts. In addition to the current volume, Dr. Whitburn coedited Postgraduate Study in Australia (Peter Lang) with Christopher McMaster, Caterina Murphy and Inger Mewburn.


Title: Disability and the University
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
216 pages