2/11/2021 Kim O'Brien

Reimagining Access for Disabled Workers in Higher Education

In a year where “Zoom fatigue” feels all too familiar, Margaret Price opened Franklin & Marshall College’s spring Common Hour series with a welcome suggestion.

“Do whatever you’d like to do that helps make this workshop more accessible for you,” she said during the Feb 10. virtual lecture. “Move around, turn your camera off as needed, “stim,” fidget, and so on.”

Speaking from personal experience as a former student and current faculty member with disabilities, Price presented “Everyday Survival and Collective Action: What We Can Learn from Disabled Workers in Higher Education.”

Price is co-founder of the Transformative Access Project. Her forthcoming book, “Crip Spacetime,” combines survey and interview data to learn about the experiences of disabled faculty in higher education.

“My research shows that we need to de-emphasize individual solutions and instead emphasize structures, relations and accountability,” Price said.

Common Hour - Everyday Survival and Collective Action: What We Can Learn from Disabled Workers in Hi

Her research highlights the “humiliating rituals” that often accompany requests for disability accommodation. 

“When a disabled worker needs a particular accommodation, they are often required to demonstrate how badly they need it,” Price said.

Such interviews included a graduate student who was told that accommodations for deaf students were too expensive. Another featured a professor who, frustrated by rejected accommodation requests, left academia altogether. 

“Requests by disabled people for aids like interpreters, accessible lighting, automatic door openers – these were generally met with suspicion or concern, and the concern, of course, was how much such measures would cost,” Price said. 

What can higher education institutions do to help remedy this? 

Ditch the individual mentality and focus on thriving as a group, said Price.

“Everything tells us to believe that we are in a line, so we fail to realize we are actually a herd,” she said. 

The global pandemic has shed new light on this, forcing employers to reimagine equitable solutions for all employees in the abrupt shift to digital workspaces.

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, events in higher ed such as classes, lectures and meetings tended to be designed on the assumption that most of us would interact face-to-face with ease,” she said. 

The need for adaptation, said Price, is all too familiar for workers with disabilities.

“We must assume that we are all accountable to each other; accountable in immediate ways,” she said. “If we didn't learn that in the past year, we’ve learned nothing.” 

See the Spring 2021 Common Hour schedule.


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