What does it mean to disclose disability in the context of higher education? This
conference will engage scholars from across the country in multi- and
inter-disciplinary conversation and collaboration around this question.
More specifically, it will coalesce around the issue of disability
disclosure, a deeply complex social and cultural phenomenon. Such
attention to disability in higher education comes at a propitious
moment: 23 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities
Act in 1990, people who grew up with the protection and access provided
by the law at their backs are now enrolling as students and beginning to
populate the academy as professionals and faculty members.
higher education, disability disclosure is a significant area of
inquiry because it directly addresses questions about what bodies are
included—and excluded—in constructions of scholarship, teaching, and
professional activity within colleges and universities. Indeed, as
faculty, staff, and students engage one another in various ways across
the academy, for those with disabilities, the ways and means of
disclosing disability, as well as the consequences of disability
disclosure, are complex and consequential. For example, Peter Wayne Moe
(2012) and Nicole Quackenbush (2010) each address how Michael J. Fox
purposefully displays the physical effects that Parkinson’s disease has
on him during oral testimony. These scholars show that disclosing a
disability is not a single event, but rather a rhetorical process
involving various audiences, language choices, purposes, and modes of
delivery (see Kerschbaum).
Questions surrounding disability
disclosure are being widely engaged by scholars in the humanities, such
as rhetoric scholars interested in how disclosures function rhetorically
as well as those interrogating such disclosures in cultural
representations of disability. Such questions are also important in the
social and physical sciences, as researchers devise studies to
empirically understand and examine the experience of disability in the
academy, or interrogate the paucity of disabled students and faculty in
particular fields. Indeed, the perception of disability and the
acceptance of disability varies widely across campus, not just between
the humanities, the social sciences, and the physical sciences, but even
within disciplines as well.
Specific questions that might fruitfully be explored by conference attendees and presenters include:
do the intersections of various identities, including race, gender,
sexuality, class, religious affiliation, national culture/ethnicity, and
geographic origin, affect the disclosure or display of disability?
are the intersections and/or convergences between disability
disclosure, queer theory (epistemologies of the closet), and critical
race studies (the politics of “passing”)?
- How are disabilities
socially, culturally, and contextually defined and understood within
particular institutional environments and settings, including
- What is the incidence and experience of disability in higher education?
- How do people disclose disability, and how are those disclosures understood by different audiences?
- What circumstances make the process of disclosure more likely to lead to inclusive practice?
- How can postsecondary educational institutions create a more accessible environment for disabled faculty, students, and staff?