In this paper I contemplate the recent inclusion of disability within three contemporary diversity-based anthologies on social justice and multicultural education: Diversity and Multiculturalism: A Reader(2009), The Handbook of Social Justice in Education (2009), and Social Justice Pedagogy Across the Curriculum (2010). Using a macro analysis of each book and a micro analysis of ninety-nine chapters in total, I analyze emergent themes and contemplate ways in which disability is framed within broader conceptions of social justice and notions of multiculturalism. Additionally, I discuss the implications for Disability Studies in Education being included within these anthologies on social justice and multicultural education, and describe potential areas of interdisciplinary growth within policy, theory, research and practice.

Introduction: Historicizing the Moment

When Disability Studies emerged from a grass roots civil disability-rights movement of the 1960s and 70s into an academic field in the 1980s, it began to influence a wide range of disciplines including sociology (Barton, 1996), history (Stiker, 1999), literature (Snyder, Brueggemann, & Garland-Thomson), social policy (Oliver & Barnes, 1993), and law (Longmore, 2003). Any notions of disability and education, however, continued to be contained within the conceptual and structural monopoly of special education. Special education's limitations were recognized by some as highly problematic because foundational knowledge within the field was largely build upon a medicalized framing of human difference, casting it in terms of deficit, disorder, and dysfunction (Brantlinger, 1997; Gallagher, 1998; Heshusius, 1989; Skrtic, 1991, Wang, Reynolds, & Walberg, 1986). In 1999, a group of critical special education scholars submitted a proposal to the national conference of The Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps (TASH) titled Ways of Constructing Lives and Disabilities: The Case for Open Inquiry. The panel participants called attention to the social and political trends in disability research, and made a case for expanding restrictive notions of theorizing and researching disability within education. During the same year, an international conference was held in the U.S. for the International Council for Inclusive Education in which attending scholars shared their non-positivist dispositions and use of critical theory which were highly compatible with (and in some cases, explicitly guided by) disability studies (Ware, 2004).

These events, along with the establishment of a Special Interest Group within the American Education Research Association, signaled the formal beginning of Disability Studies in Education (DSE) as a scholarly field. In the decade that followed, DSE grew as a legitimate sub-field of study reflected in an annual international conference, several book series, doctoral dissertations, creative research, and scholarly publications. For those of us working within the field, it has been important to document and publish this history in a variety of venues from edited DSE books (Gabel, 2005) to special education journals (Baglieri, Valle, Connor, & Gallagher, 2011).

The paired concepts of disability and education, then, are no longer under the monopolizing domain of special education. Instead of viewing disability primarily through a deficit-based lens like special education, DSE primarily frames disability as a social construct, a phenomenon created through the meanings accorded to bodily differences. In sum, given the historical marginalization of people with disabilities in all aspects of society (Fleischer & Zames, 2001), disability is an issue of social justice for those working within DSE.

To some scholars, social justice in education is an outgrowth of multicultural education (Chapman & Hobbel, 2010b). As can be seen in Table 1, interest in the multicultural movement has continued to grow steadily. For over three decades, multiculturalism has been nurtured and used by educators who witness daily many forms of inequality and injustice. Sleeter (1989), an early and steadfast proponent of multiculturalism, described its mission as to challenge oppression, and to use schooling as much as possible to help shape a future America that is more equal, democratic, and just, and that does not demand conformity to one cultural norm. And it must reaffirm its radical and political nature (p. 63).

Table 1
Search Results in ERIC Education for Descriptor of "Multicultural" and "Social Justice"
(1967-) 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010*
Multicultural 2,828 4,468 9,151 12,871 14,474 17,016
Social Justice 200 288 496 935 1,754 3,689

* calculated through October 1, 2010
Description: This table shows the growth of multiculturalism and social justice publications within academic journals in 5 year increments, ranging from 1985 to 2010. For example, in 1985 ERIC documented there were a total of 2,828 publications using "multicultural" as a descriptor, and 200 using "social justice" as a descriptor. Likewise, in 2010, there was a total of 17,016 publications using "multicultural" as a descriptor, and 3,689 using "social justice" as a descriptor."

It is easy to see some common interests among the principles of DSE, social justice, and multiculturalism. Without wishing to oversimplify, all three academic realms seek to: value difference, rather than diminish it; cultivate pluralism, rather than assimilate into "normalcy"; strive for equality among citizens, rather than endure limiting presecribed roles; create social change, rather than accept the status quo.

For those of us who work within DSE and have traditionally embraced multiculturalism and social justice issues within our teaching and research, we find ourselves in an interesting time in which disability has become increasingly recognized as a form of diversity within these conceptual umbrellas. This article features an analysis of three examples of diversity-based anthologies within the connected field(s) of social justice and multiculturalism published between 2009 and 2010. As such, it explores ways in which disability in general and DSE in particular are being integrated into contemporary anthologies on broad conceptions of diversity. It also serves as an opportunity to discuss implications for the fields of social justice and multiculturalism as they accept the interdisciplinary field of DSE. An analysis of chapters in all three texts reveals that after race (11%), disability is the second most featured marker of identity (9%), followed by sexual orientation (8%), and gender (5%) (see Table 2). This relatively newfound frequency of disability raises the broad question: What does it mean for DSE to be included within the interconnected fields of social justice and multiculturalism?

Table 2
Three Featured Anthologies by Main Topics
  Steinberg Ayres, Quinn, & Stovall

Chapman & Hobbel

Primary Topics of Chapters


= 30


= 52


= 17


= 99
"How To" & Practical Approaches 4 14 9 27 27%
History and Theory 1 9 4 14 14%
Race 6 4 1 11 11%
Disability 3 5 1 9 9%
Sexual Orientation 3 4 1 8 8%

Globalization & Developing World

0 7 0 7 7%
Gender 2 3 0 5 5%
Ethnicity 2 1 0 3 3%
Language 1 2 0 3 3%
Religion 3 0 0 3 3%
Social Class 2 1 0 3 3%
Urban context 2 1 0 3 3%
Indigenous 0 0 1 1 1%
Rural context 1 0 0 1 1%
Nationality 0 0 0 0 0%

Description: This table shows the following markers of identity in order of frequency found in the mainstream anthologies: Race (11%), Disability (9%), Sexual Orientation (8%), Globilization and Developing World (7%), Gender (5%), Ethnicity (3%), Language (3%), Religion (3%), Social Class (3%), Urban Context (3%), Indigenous People (1%), Rural Context (1%), and Nationality (0%).

Personalizing the Works Reviewed

My interest in the three books analyzed in this paper began when I was asked to co-author chapters in each of them, all within a short period of time. In order to dispel any notions of grandiosity, I was not first choice of author by the editors of each edition. However, there was an excitement from my academic peers that being asked to participate signaled a welcome shift from disability and education being synonymous with special education to a greater recognition of disability as diversity that is clearly related to issues social justice. In brief, we felt compelled to respond to this opportunity and bring DSE to a wider audience of scholars and activists that were potential allies.

The three works researched consist of books that focus on issues of social justice and multiculturalism. The first text is Diversity and Multiculturalism: A Reader (DMR) edited by Steinberg (2009a), featuring a total of thirty chapters within nine sections. 1 The second text is the Handbook of Social Justice in Education (HSJE) edited by Ayres, Quinn, and Stovall (2009a). It contains fifty-two chapters, also spanning nine sections. 2 The third text is called Social Justice Pedagogy Across the Curriculum (SJPAC) edited by Chapman and Hobbel (2010a). 3 Altogether, a combined total of ninety-nine chapters were analyzed to contemplate how disability is currently being represented at the table(s) of social justice and multicultural education.

It is worthwhile noting that before 2000 even "progressive" anthologies of difference either omitted disability or, at best, left it underrepresented (see, for example, Anderson & Collins, 1998; Sleeter & McClaren, 1995). During the decade of 2000-2010, disability began to become incorporated in some anthologies such as Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Adams, Blumenfeld, Castaneda, Hackman, Peters, & Zuniga, 2000) that featured a section on ableism, along with thirteen short pieces from scholars and activists. Recently reissued in the form of a second edition (Adams, Blumenfeld, Castaneda, Hackman, Peters, & Zuniga, 2010), the ableism section now features nineteen contributions, with new editions from DS scholars such as Davis (2010) and DSE scholars such as Erevelles (2010). Interestingly, the companion piece to this volume, Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice (Adams, Bell, & Griffin, 2005) features a section on designing curriculum to challenge ableism (Griffin, Peters, & Smith, 2005).

In brief, the three texts chosen for this descriptive analysis are published at a particular moment in time where disability is becoming increasingly recognized as integral to issues of social justice in education. Participating in these texts therefore allow scholars within DSE to play an active role in educating and integrating disability into broader issues of SJ, and in turn, learn from their allies who have similar goals within their own discipline.


The three recently published volumes were analyzed at both macro and micro levels. Culling from the work of Fairclough (1995) and Rogers (2008), a macro analysis involved a systematic investigation of elements to understand "the big picture" or gestalt of the work. In this case, I studied: (i) the format of the entire text, including the types of diversity addressed (and not addressed); (ii) how the editors frame issues of social justice, multiculturalism, and diversity; (iii) and where disability is positioned in relation to other markers of identity, revealing how disability is understood by the editors. Likewise, a micro analysis of the texts included a careful study of the individualized components within each chapter that incorporated: (i) when disability is mentioned and how it connects to other concepts or issues; (ii) the degree to which disability is understood as a minority model akin to other markers of identity; (iii) the degree that disability is understood as a social construct versus a medicalized condition (iv) the types of disabilities that are featured, (v) intersections between disability and other markers of identity, and (vi) the general pertinence of the chapter to DSE. Finally, in addition to macro and micro levels of analysis, the specific chapters by DSE scholars writing explicitly about disability are analyzed with view to how the authors have attempted to expand the scope of DSE in the domains of theory, research, practice, and policy. Through using this multi-step analysis, major themes and topics of interest emerged that were both somewhat expected (bearing in mind the specificity of what was being analyzed) and open ended (given the breadth of content). A similar form of detailed critical analysis has been used by other DSE scholars in their investigation of traditional course texts books used in introductory courses to special education (Brantlinger, 2005) and depictions of students with behavioral problems (Smith, 2006)


The following sections outline findings from these three broad areas of analysis, and are correspondingly divided into "The Big Picture," Disability Across all Chapters, 4 and Disability-Specific Chapters. Overall, these texts name disability as natural and "normal" human difference, rather than as deficit, disorder, and dysfunction—something "wrong" with people. They recognize the crucial need to shift how disability is predominantly understood if practices are to change inside of schools and universities, in research projects and grants, and within all manner of governmental policies and procedures. By considering the books on these three levels, I believe a conceptual shift about disability in the field of education becomes evident, clarifying why notions of (dis)ability belong within diversity.

"The Big Picture"

As to be expected, in terms of a macro analysis, all three volumes contain a wide representation of diversity (see Table 1 for an overview), obliging editors to specify how they currently utilize the term and its related concepts.

Clarifying and Complicating Conceptualizations of Diversity

In her preface to DMR, Steinberg (2009b) recognizes the dilemma of decades-old attempts by educators to define diversity and multiculturalism, acknowledging that there's little agreement about the terms. She criticizes tokenistic attempts to show diversity asserting, "…these sustain a dominant culture of whiteness, of ableness, of heterosexualness, and of English languageness as the real culture" (p. xi) and concludes rather pessimistically, "…we have not made a lot of progress" (ibid). The book seeks to address inadequate ways that curricula have been developed and taught. Of note is that the chapters on race place Whiteness within diversity, and in doing so, foregrounds it as the bearer of the dominant culture, a meta narrative capable of self-obscuring while holding all other standards against itself.

Steinberg recognizes disability as a marker of identity akin to race, ethnicity, and gender, named within a list of descriptors, sometimes referred to obliquely as "ableness." Interestingly, the section that contains three chapters on disability is titled "Physical Diversity." While an obvious and much needed nod toward corporeal difference, it does not convey "invisible" disability categories such as learning disabilities (LD), emotional disturbance (ED), cognitive impairment/mental retardation (CI/MR), and speech and language disorder (SLD), which account for 85% of all students labeled in schools (Hehir, 2005). That said, Steinberg and Kincheloe (2009) do also openly critique the institution of special education equating it with "programs that teach discipline and low expectations" (2009, p. 13).

The largest of the three books by far, HSJE offers a comprehensive overview of social justice issues. The introductory section is firmly anchored in broad historical and rich theoretical perspectives, counterbalanced with many chapters dedicated to ways of teaching social justice. Given the size of the volume, most "groups" and attendant topics (such as globilization) are featured in dedicated chapters. That said, unlike Steinberg's text, it does not have dedicated chapters on regional/rural concerns, or nationalities other than what is traditionally called "American."

The editors' preface (Ayres, Quinn, & Stoval, 2009b) is succinct, framing the issues of social justice as built upon three pillars or principles: (1) Equity, "…the principle of fairness, equal access to the most challenging and nourishing educational experiences (p. xiv); (2) Activism, "…the principle of agency, full participation, preparing youngsters to see and understand, when necessary, to change all that is before them…a move from passivity, cynicism and despair" (p. xiv); and (3) Social Literacy, "…the principle of relevance, resisting and flattening effects of materialism and consumerism and the power of the abiding social evils of white supremacy, patriarchy, homophobia…" (p. xvi). The authors raise the importance of interrelated issues of helping "others" to regain hope, and actively participate in forging a more equitable society.

In the foreword of SJPAC, Nieto and Bode note that "…a close look at U.S. educational history makes it obvious that few controversies have been unrelated to social justice in education, whether these have focused on segregated schools, bilingual education, education for youngsters with special needs, or gender-fair education, among others" (p. x). Perhaps it is because all of these and other issues that the overarching concept of social justice can appear so widespread, causing concern to Chapman and Hobbel who acknowledge, "The increased use of the term 'social justice' has led to a diffusion of meaning that threatens to make the concept of social justice ineffective and difficult to document through empirical research" (2010c, p. 3). The authors themselves caution that, "Even when scholars present definitions of social justice education, their articulations seem convenient to their arguments, rather than comprehensive across points of inquiry" (ibid). Chapman and Hobbel's concerns are well placed, raising the question of how can scholars drawn to social justice in education consider ways in which they are united, and use this common ground to help forge greater cohesion within research?

Taking Action: Responding to Diversity

While much is discussed about recognizing, understanding, and celebrating diversity, all three texts recognize the imbalance of power among diverse groups, and the moral imperative to take action. In the introduction of HSJE, the editors state their claim that "Social justice education embraces these three R's: Relevant, Rigorous, and Revolutionary. We change our lives, we change the world" (p. xiv). Here, they share their beliefs that individuals who shift from merely contemplating ideas to being proactive in addressing inequalities among diverse populations can create the change they seek. In their corresponding conclusion of the text, after so many ideas have been shared by dozens of scholars, activists, and practitioners, the editors also acknowledge the sometimes amorphous nature of doing social justice work in education:

We were able to assemble a small temporary community of educators and thinkers, artists and activists and writers who have helped to identify, name, and represent an array of issues that matter when we think about teaching and schooling and social justice. But the effort is still sketchy, and that is surely the permanent condition of the thing: in this dynamic, forward-charging, imperfect human endeavor, there is always more to know, more to uncover, more to expand and embrace (Ayres, Quinn, & Stovall, 2009, p. 725).

Whereas the title of the third book, Social Justice Pedagogy Across the Curriculum, emphasizes action, the contents pay equal attention to the need for cultivating a strong theoretical grounding from which practical social justice work can flourish. While being the shortest of the three texts, this book includes perspectives from critical theory, Black feminist theory, queer theory, multicultural theory, poststructuralist theory, indigenous perspectives, disability studies, and, importantly, a host of classroom practitioners.

In their preface to SJPAC, editors Chapman and Hobbel frame issues of social justice, multiculturalism, and diversity as best understood when simultaneously contemplating history, theory, and practice. Influenced by the work of Nieto, the authors use her words as a general guide. Through incorporating points of inquiry and points of praxis, Chapman and Hobbel's text encourages the reader to consider the when, where, and how of using ideas from social justice to shape and inform research and practice. They believe that the points included, "should guide us in creating praxis that is appropriate to our individual schooling contexts" (2010b, p. xi). Such ideas encourage educators to think in complex and critical terms versus simple and uncritical ways. Nieto and Bode (2009) state, "…one could argue that it is impossible to be a teacher without taking into account such issues as gender, sexuality, language, race, social class, ability, and other individual and group differences because these are at the very heart of equitable education, and they always have been" (p. ix). At the same time in DMR, Steinberg passionately calls attention to the inadequacy of current curricula to address desired social changes writing, "…we—teachers and instructors—are the agents of social and cultural change" (p. xiii).

What all three texts reveal, in some shape or form, is "the call" for educators drawn to teaching about diversity, for within diversity lies the promise of social change born from their own inability to accept everyday injustices, no matter how pervasive they may seem.

Disability Within All Chapters

A micro-analysis of all chapters reveals disability is either the central theme, used to illustrate a point, mentioned in passing, or not at all. The following section describes an array of how disability emerged across all texts.

An Accepted Marker of Identity

In analyzing when disability is mentioned and how it connects to other concepts or issues, a clear pattern emerges of (dis)ability being included within a list of accepted markers of identity. For example in DMR, Johnson (2009) reports that The Council for the Advancement of Standards identified eight dimensions of diversity that ought to be addressed: "race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, socioeconomic class, and ability" (p. 24), arranging them in a table form complete with corresponding "isms" (p. 32). In another example, within a chapter on sexual diversity, Meyer (2009) alludes to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms Protected under the Law, including disability. Similarly within HSJE, several authors incorporate disability into their chain of identity-markers, such as in Leistyna's (2009) comment, "…young people are experiencing a great deal of discrimination along the lines of race, language, disability, religion, gender, and sexuality" (p. 52). In SJPAC, Quijada-Cerecer, Alvarez-Gutirrez, and Rios (2010) open the diversity umbrella that includes "nationality, class, gender, disability, spiritual practice, age and sexual orientation which, along with race and ethnicity make up 'the big nine'" (p. 153), with eight (barring social class, tellingly) encoded to different degrees of protection within the law.

A Social Construct

Generally speaking across all three texts, disability increasingly appears to be understood as a social construct rather than a medicalized condition. Authors are cognizant that notions of disability have risen in a certain time, place, and culture, and should always be understood as highly contingent upon context. Within DMR, Airtons' (2009) detailed discussion of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), calls attention to how these "disabilities" are researched almost always exclusively with boys and neglect a social context for analysis. She notes how most of the research is predicated on gender-binarisms, and challenges the widely accepted idea of transferring a 'syndrome' from one culture to another, expecting to find an identical response. In noting "genderist ideologies" (p. 238), the author illustrates how girls displaying the same characteristics of ADD/ADHD are more likely to be given the label of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), and are subsequently seen as pathologically defiant.

One chapter featured in HSJE where disability is clearly understood as social construct in contrast to a medicalized condition is Thumann and Simms' (2009) open discussion of cultural versus pathological viewpoints of Deafness. The authors state that because of teachers "…already trained in a pathological view" (p. 198), Deaf children are seen as deficient, contrary to assertions of the Deaf community. While claiming Deaf people are not disabled people, this particular chapter resonates with issues of interest within DSE. As Thumann and Simms point out, "Experts in the scientific, medical, and education establishments who purport to serve the Deaf in fact do them a great harm when they address the realities of our lives, and portray Deaf people as disabled" (p. 204). Arguably, this comment may be applied to any form for any physical, sensory, emotional, and cognitive difference that is determined a "disability" (see, for example, authors who understand their ADD/ADHD as integral to who they are, such as: Mooney, 2008; O'Connor, 2001; Piziali, 2001).

Interestingly, in planning their book, the editors of SJPAC recognized disability as a socially constructed minority category. Ironically, when initially contacting potential authors, they automatically thought in terms of special education, the default box into which seemingly almost everything pertaining to disability and education becomes placed. However, the traditional scholars in special education who were originally invited were limited by their conceptualizion of disability through a medicalized, deficit-based lens, leaving them unable to identify with the editors' proposal of featuring disability as a form of oppression framed within a minority perspective. It was then that came to seek critical special educators who write within DSE (Chapman & Hobbel, 2009).

A Minority Model

In many respects, viewing disability as a social construct allows disability to be understood as a minority model akin to other markers of identity. In turn, by recognizing disability as a minority category and part of the larger umbrella of social justice, many of the issues discussed in other chapters have direct application to issues of disability. For example, Loutzenheiser (2009) seeks to queer all categories claiming,

It is the work of these theories to disrupt the uncritical usage of categorizations and labeling, to require interrogations of when these constructions are useful and when they further stereotype, or merely encourage a lack of complexity in favor of ease of understanding (p. 136).

Similarly, Quijada-Cerecer, Alvarez-Guitirrez, and Rios (2010) reaffirm a rejection of the deficit perspective that characterizes much of the education of all marginalized students, and advocate for a shift that views all students (not only those from privileged backgrounds) as possessing resources that should be foundational for their learning. They further state that "…critical multicultural education has advanced the field by advocating an activist orientation to teaching and learning and recognizing the post-modern orientations around identity and culture as dynamic" (p. 156). As previously mentioned, the transformative power of social justice education is about enacting change, including providing students with knowledge and tools to facilitate their refusal of inherited inscriptions, including "disability."

In keeping with a minority perspective, it is noticeable that when disability is mentioned in several chapters throughout the book it is often in connection with civil rights. Sleeter's (2010) chapter in SJPAC on how federal education promoted equity policies, "although not very systematically" (p. 42), illustrates attempts made to improve education for students according to their race, language minority status, and disabilities. She narrates a brief history from late 1950s that includes landmark legislation for children with disabilities, such as Section 504 and Public Law 94-142 known as Education for All Handicapped Children Act. When describing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its subsequent reauthorizations, Sleeter emphasizes its change in focus onto student achievement rather than the provision of services.

For example, she claims that, "…the work of OCR [Office of Civil Rights] has shifted away from race and toward disability, partly because parents of children with disabilities have learned to use the detailed regulations to argue on their behalf" (p. 51). Interestingly, Sleeter also notes that, "Civil rights legislation, based on the larger Civil Rights Act, initially framed race, disability, and gender discrimination in institutionalized terms, although that framing shifted to individual acts of discrimination, especially under Republican administrations" (p. 53), shedding light on how attempts at structural change can be diverted to legal protection on a case-by-case basis.

How disability is understood as a minority model akin to other markers of identity varies among chapters in HJSE. In some instances, disability is included, whereas another group is not, such as Kenway and Hickey-Moody's (2009) commentary on abjectifying aboriginality. The authors problematize how the Australian Tourist Board makes provision for GLBTQ and/or disabled travelers, but maintain a marked absence of Aboriginal people represented as integrated into the larger community. In contrast, sometimes the topic of disability is excluded as other rights-based groups are included. For example, Arnove (2009) writes, "In the 1960s and 1970s, the women's rights, gay rights, civil rights, and anti-war movements all undertook processes of internal education, organizing teach-ins, setting up study circles, and creating an alternative networks of newspapers, books, and other publications" (p. 89). Here is an instance where the disability rights movement also belongs.

On a related note, the segregation of students according to race and ability is of concern to scholars working within disability studies (Ferri & Connor, 2006) and critical race theory (Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995) who call attention to the injustices of such commonplace practices. In his chapter on Whiteness in DMR, Rodriguez (2009) calls attention to making it visible within teacher education with view to understanding the complexities of privilege and placement in schools. Other authors incorporate disability and race as integral to the points they make. For example, in HSJE, Hursh's (2009) critiques current policies, contending that educational inequality has increased as a result of these neoliberal reforms noting, "Quantitative evidence from New York suggests that high-stakes testing has harmed educational achievement. Fewer students, especially students of color and students with disabilities, are completing high school. From 1998 to 2000, the drop out rate increased by 17%" (p. 159).

A Result of Practices in School Culture

Within and across the three texts, a school culture of perceived deficits is also questioned, and seen as a contributing factor to the active disabling of some of the most vulnerable children. In DMR, Shields (2009) calls attention to the demands of No Child Left Behind Act and the belief that

…either low income, a specific ethnic group, or perhaps refugee and immigrant children—are not as capable as those from the dominant group. They are perceived to have learning deficits, and their culture is seen as deficient in that it impedes their school success; thus, they are treated as second class citizens (p. 477).

To counter the rampant exclusion of various students from the mainstream, including those with various disabilities, Evans-Winters and Ivie (2009), suggested the use of Critical Multicultural Feminism to ensure that educators afford all students receive the same opportunities.

While various types of disabilities are featured throughout HSJE, several authors address the educational contexts and lived realities of students with learning disabilities. In her analysis of limited access to general education classes for students with LD, Blanchett (2009) observes, "Students with learning disabilities who are in general education classrooms for 75% or more of their day are more likely to receive HIV/AIDS education than their peers who spent 25% or more of their time in special education classes" (p. 347). This sobering instance is symbolic of how knowledge is withheld from students who are at greater risk of infection (Blanchett, 2000). In sum, instead of the hyper focus upon "deficits within children" that is a common aspect of special education, several chapters shift their gaze to the pathology of school culture.

An Aspect of Intersectionality

Another area of interest that emerged across the texts is that of disability as an intersectional aspect of identity, although this phenomenon varies in level of awareness. For example, the potential between disability and other markers of identity is implicit, but not stated, in DMR. Steinberg and Kincheloe acknowledge the intersectional nature of each marker of identity stating, "Indeed, the way one experiences race, class, and gender is contingent on their intersections with other hierarchies of inequality—other hierarchies in which the privileges of some grow out of the oppression of others" (p. 6-7). Here the authors allude to the complexities of oppression, although unfortunately without elaboration. On the other hand, Daffin and Anderson (2009) do illustrate the intersectional nature of oppression claiming, "While issues of disability receive more attention than issues of class, they too have become entangled with issues of gender and race. Males and students of color are disproportionately referred to special education programs" (p. 443).

One of the nine sections within HSJE, Bodies, Disability, and the Fight for Social Justice in Education, indicates the editors give disability equal status with other markers of identity. In her introduction to this edited section, Hulseboch (2009) narrates first hand experience with the absurdities of reductionist classifications within schools, describing how her daughter went from being "an ordinary Deaf kid with learning strengths and needs that no one in the school could see or respond to one her parents had worked to have labeled learning disabled in order to provide some extraordinary support" (p. 376), to ultimately being labeled emotionally disturbed. In contrast, when closing this part of the book, the poet Jim Ferris (2009) meditates upon the expansiveness of the human condition, its inherent beauty, and natural variety concluding, "…disabled people are at once vulnerable, adaptable, and strong, are humanity writ large, writ plain. Disabled people are where humanity comes clear" (p. 447).

The individual chapters within HJSE encompass numerous theories and historical perspectives, many of which implicitly or explicitly connect to disability, in terms of intersectionality (McCready, 2009) or its absence (Kenway & Hickey-Moody, 2009), illustrating the complexities involved in this work that have only just begun to be explored. In McCready's chapter, for example, what can be learned from individuals who are simultaneously positioned as Black, male, gay, working class, and learning disabled? How does each marker of identity (and all that it entails) impact upon the others within a person? In Kenway and Hickey-Moody's piece, what does the absence of Aboriginal Australians say and/or (re)enforce about other groups, including "progressive" inclusions of GLBTQ and disabled communities?

A Tool for Analogizing

Finally, in addition to be part of a larger group that reflects diversity, disability can be evoked to make a point that is generalizable to other markers of identity. For example, DMR's chapter on religious diversity provocatively titled Kill Santa, Sensoy (2009) seeks to inform readers on how to understand institutionalized oppression and privilege. To illuminate the concept of unearned privileges she begins by using left-handedness before moving onto the concept of ableism, deftly linking the key criterion of being privileged as social power. She writes,

As persons who fit a fluid category of 'normal' able bodied-ness, we can go through entire days, weeks, and even months never having to consider the limits of our ability to physically access any social environment…the social environment was set up to accommodate us as normal, giving us social privilege, protecting us from ever having to think about life without such "rights" (p. 325).

Sensoy notes that although the able bodied person does not seek to discriminate, "…the closer your values, ideas, language, faith, and body are to what is 'normal' in a society, the more privilege you have" (p. 326). This is an interesting instance of using ableism as analogous to another form of privilege (in this case Christianity), making the concept of disability integral to the premise of the argument. In contrast to mentioning disability in passing or to help bolster a substantial point, it is omitted altogether from several chapters among all three texts, including those on notions of minority (Davis, 2009), whiteness (Helfand, 2009), multi-ethnic individuals (Mohan, 2009), sexual orientation (Walton, 2009), colonialism (Stanley, 2009), and critical theory (Ndimande, 2010).

Disability Specific Chapters

In this section, eight chapters dedicated to the broad notion of disability are analyzed. While each chapter is distinct in and of itself, three distinct areas arose, all worth describing.

The Damage of (Pseudo) Science in Defining Disability

McDermot and Raley's (2009) "The Tell-Tale Body": The Constitution of Disabilities in School provides a systematic and scathing critique of "The Body Politic," how children are falsely labeled and pigeon-holed into common constructs such as the clumsy child or the hyperactive child, and how these very acts indicate "Democracy [is] Disabled" (p. 441). With great clarity, McDermott and Raley undermine the sacred cows of positivism and "scientific" testing, noting how the US was the first society to institutionalize a narrow definition of intelligence as measured via IQ tests, and was the first society to institutionalize the search for LD. They also show the globalization of disability constructs, and their exportation to other nations, where they are ostensibly employed to help individuals, but in reality, "mark" bodies in ways that their culture had not previously done so.

In Impediments to Social Justice: Hierarchy, Science, Faith, and Imposed Identity, Brantlinger (2009) addresses the taken for granted practices of disability classification in schools. In her own words, she describes the damage wreaked by using pseudo-science to reify student differences, and urges "scientifically-minded" education professionals to instead call upon morality and social reciprocity. In advocating this, Brantlinger brings a DSE critique to the purposes of hierarchy production, and the official imposition of a "damaged identity" (that is, receiving the inscription of a disability label), and the relentless overreliance on a scientifically-justified knowledge base used in traditional special education to defend ideas of difference. She notes that, "Just as powerful individuals evade fighting in wars they create, those who structure stratified schooling are rarely positioned at the bottom rung of school hierarchy" (p. 403).

Berry's (2009) Health and Diversity: What Does it Mean for Inclusion and Social Justice? addresses broad notions of physical health and "healthy" conditions. In recalling her own career and disability, she states, "…I struggled, however, even teaching because of the societal and institutional abnormalizing and exclusion of a body made different in childhood by the polio virus" (p. 335). She urges the use of local knowledge over the powerful influence of science that has wrested knowledge, influence, and care from the hands of females. While no overt reference is made to DS, the author's position of primarily viewing disability within a social context, and refuting the power claims of a medicalized lens, fits within a DSE paradigm.

Replacing Misleading and Oppressive Models of Disability

As the title makes clear, in Doing a (Dis)Service: Reimagining Special Education from a Disability Studies Perspective Ferri (2009) takes on the daily practices and habits of special education, revealing them to be highly questionable at best, and undeniably oppressive at worst. By foregrounding individuals who experience receiving labels, special placements, and limited opportunities, she paints a contrasting picture to the benevolent framing of special education classes found in introductory text books (Brantlinger, 2005). Ferri makes a compelling argument that it is only through reforming schools for everyone that such widespread, damaging practices can change, and argues that it is a moral imperative of scholars working within DSE to help envision and implement practices that will improve the educational experiences for students with disabilities along with their nondisabled peers.

In focusing on college life for students with disabilities, Ware's (2009) The Hegemonic Impulse for Health and Well-being: A Saga of the Less Well and the Less Worthy, addresses the glossy sheen that universities attempt to project in relation both accessibility and cultural diversity. The author also focuses on the real issues of undergraduate students, campus access, and administrative responsibilities in relation to what she terms, "Awareness Beyond the Nod" (p. 372). Combining issues of ableism, agency, and education, she critiques the current state of disability within multiculturalism. Although it is ostensibly "infused" throughout curricula and various administrative documents, institutionalized discourses of disability are still trapped in restrictive notions. And while diversity is celebrated on paper, Ware shares the comment of a student with a disability who concluded "there were no venues on campus to discuss any aspect of disability except those framed by treatment, cure, and correction" (p. 371).

In Welcoming the Unwelcome: Disability as Diversity, Connor and Gabel (2010) challenge widespread misconceptions and stereotypes about how disability is conceived in relation to social judgments. First, they highlight the limited and oppressive conceptions of disability within traditional special education. Second, using DS they question the very concept of disability, elaborate upon the benefit of using a social model to accurately understand the lived reality and concerns of people with disabilities. Third, the authors argue for the value of DSE in unlearning pervasive stereotypes in order to rethink and re-teach disability across the entire curriculum, from kindergarten to college. Connor and Gabel believe instead of seeking purported "intrinsic deficits" within children and youth, DS believes more can be gained by holding a mirror up to the institution of schooling and its commonplace practices. By doing so, what becomes revealed is "…the ways that bodies interact with the socially engineered environment and confirm to social expectations [and] determine the varying degrees of disability or able-bodiedness, or extra-ordinariness" (Garland Thomson, 1997, p. 7). In closing, the authors make an unabashed pitch for the increased use of DSE with other social justice related disciplines, stating

Disability, the formerly uninvited guest at the table of diversity in academia and all that it influences, now brings new ways of seeing where and how discrimination exists, and ways to counter social injustices based on physical, cognitive, behavioral, and sensory differences. Turning "normalcy" on its head by refuting its solidity and contesting its stability, DSE invites us all to rethink some of our most fundamental assumptions about where and how to educate everyone in a democracy (Connor & Gabel, 2010, p. 356).

Rewriting Cultural Scripts of Disability

InTipping the Scales: Disability Studies asks, "How Much Diversity Can You Take?", Connor and Baglieri (2009) posit whether disability is the proverbial straw that breaks the diversity camel's back. Topics addressed include: the need to confront ableism; challenging notions of idealized and defective citizens; the need for disability to have parity with other markers of identity; unraveling the concept of normalcy; the role of critical educators in calling attention to injustices; and recognizing the "Masterscripting" (Swartz, 1992) of ability within the medical model that pervades the teacher education programs, schools, and curricula. Through rewriting the master script, the authors advocate for teaching disability as diversity, and give examples of how to do so in elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as within teacher education.

InTheorizing Disability: Implications and Applications for Social Justice in Education Gabel and Connor (2009) trace how for many teachers, parents, scholars, and students with disabilities, the evolution of Special Education shifted from initial hope to contemporary criticism. The authors narrate the emergence of DSE as an outcome of such dissatisfaction, and the desire to create better ways of understanding and teaching about disability focused on viewing it as a form of natural diversity rather than an abnormality. Selecting the three disciplines of multicultural studies, critical race studies, and queer studies, Gabel and Connor explore applications for each when combined with DSE, creating new forms of social justice education incorporating curriculum content, providing access to curricula, and revising educational policies. They contend that each discipline has the power to interanimate one another, thereby creating a synthesis that is more rich, complicated, and potentially useful than if each discipline was employed solely.

Interestingly, of the nine chapters primarily focusing upon disability, six have an explicit DSE orientation (Brantlinger, 2009; Connor & Baglieri, 2009; Connor & Gabel, 2010; Gabel & Connor, 2010; Ferri, 2009; Ware, 2009), and the remaining three have an implicit—although not stated—DSE orientation (Berry, 2009; McDermott & Raley; Thumann & Simms, 2009). Both the level and nature of representation is promising in terms of inclusion into larger, inter-disciplinary fields of study, with one third of all chapters featuring disability, ranging from a central focus to "in passing" (see Table 3).

Table 3
Disability in Three Featured Anthologies Combined
Total number of chapters: 99
  Number of Chapters             Percentage
Main topic 10 10%
Featured when making a significant point         5 5%
Mentioned in passing 19 19%
Not mentioned 65 65%

Description: This table describes how disability was defined in all three anthologies according to: main topic (10%); featured when making a significant point (5%); mentioned in passing (19%); and not mentioned (65%).

Inclusion at the Table(s) of Diversity: Answered Prayers?

In keeping with the critical aspect of DSE, I also seek to trouble the idea of "answered prayers." By this I mean that proponents of DSE do not breathe a collective sigh of (unquestioned) relief now that disability issues are rightfully featured in some anthologies about social justice and multiculturalism. Although DSE scholars are pleased by the recognition of disability in texts on diversity, it is of equal interest to consider what does not always fit nice and tidily into preexisting frameworks of thought. For example, what might be some divergencies, discrepancies, contradictions, tensions, and ruptures among various constituencies within these three volumes? Where are the emerging intersectional approaches to understanding bodily differences? What are some potential areas of interest to various groups but are, as yet, undertheorized? What happens when diverse issues compete with one another? The questions can be weighed alongside more general implications of these recent works.

Some Implications

The three volumes analyzed offer an opportunity to contemplate general implications for theory, research, policy, and practice. In terms of theory, within a social justice framework, the value of viewing disability as constituted via social, cultural, and historical contexts—rather than solely through "scientific," medical, and psychological lenses—is clearly evident. In addition, as (dis)abilities cannot exist free of context, the value of intersectional approaches to understanding complex phenomena——has already begun to be explored by focusing on commonalities and dissonance among DSE and multiculturalism, Critical Race Studies, and Queer Theory approaches to theory (Gabel & Connor, 2009), and how that influences research and practice. What multiple markers of identity bring up is the specter of possible competition amongst themselves. Although shamelessly idealistic and Utopian in vision, a socially just world lies within our imaginations—and, assumedly, is contingent upon the premise of live-and-let live without one group seeking domination over another. What might this world look like in terms of education? From a DSE perspective, some successful multicultural inclusive classrooms already exist (Sapon-Shevin, 2007) and should be the common model for a truly democratic society.

In terms of research, Brantlinger's (2009) arguments for social reciprocity make sense as a more humane alternative to the purported neutrality of positivism. In addition, Sleeter's (2009) analysis of the pseudo-scientific justifications that undergird much of federal research policies points to a much needed dismantling of science's hegemony in issues pertaining to disability and education in conjunction with cultivating and circulating different, more humane ways of understanding "difference." Furthermore, Berry's (2009) work on what counts as a "healthy body" also explicates the power of understanding a phenomenon through an intersectional analysis. To state the obvious, every one of us is raced, nationalized, ethnicized, gendered, dis/abled, sexualized, and so on. As Finkelstein asserts, "…disabled people's control over their lives and disability is not a single issue" (Campbell & Oliver, 1996, p. 64). On the contrary, disability is inextricably combined with other markers of identity that influence human experience—and these can never be entirely untangled. Garland Thomson (1997) believes that all markers of identity constitute "related products of the same social process and practices that shape bodies according to ideological structures" (p. 136). Intersectionality with (dis)ability, therefore, requires us to think about ways in which multiple discourses together create multidimensional experiences, thereby enriching previously held notions of how we all come to know and understand our lives. Related to these ideas is the consideration of research as a culturally propelled endeavor that shapes all aspects of our inquiries, from questions raised to methodologies utilized, from interpretation of information to the analysis of data, from the staging of findings to their interpretation. Failure to acknowledge it as such results in a continuation of long standing deeply rooted social injustices (Artiles, 2011).

In terms of policy, DSE and social justice are useful in critiquing institutionalized structures that range from government policies such as No Child Left Behind (Bejoian & Reid, 2005), to how school buildings are organized (Skrtic, 1991; 2010), to issues of compliance in colleges (Ware, 2009). Both fields share concern over the master scripting of disability, and ways in which commonplace daily practices constitute normalized and abnormalized citizens (Davis, 1995). New scripts of disability are now possible through utilizing elements of and influences from DSE, social justice, and multiculturalism—even in the face of what sometimes appears as insurmountable discourses of deficit (Beratan, 2005). It is a fervent hope that when reimagining classrooms to successfully integrate and support students with disabilities, all students should benefit from a more open, diversity-rich environment. Finally, of importance to policy is the under addressed world-wide concern of intersectional issue of poverty and disability, something that scholars in DSE have only begun to acknowledge (Gabel & Danforth, 2008).

In terms of practice, we must be aware that although writing about social justice is a form of enactment of principles within the academy, it cannot, in and of itself, create change. As North (2008) points out, "…singular approaches to education for social justice, as well as policy formation processes that exclude or marginalize the actors implicated in them, will not result in more just and equitable forms of education" (p. 1182). This means that if we seek change, we must not only envision it, but rather take actions that work toward the desired change, including creating different practices within teaching and learning. These practices can include cripping the curriculum in many different ways (see, for example, Connor & Bejoian, 2007), as well as continuously and unabashedly pushing toward universally designed classrooms and lessons that provide access to all students (Burgstahler & Corey, 2008).

Conclusion: Increased Inclusivity, Promising Alliances

In returning to the question posed within the title of this article, "Does dis/ability now sit at the table(s) of social justice and multicultural education?" I believe there is ample evidence that the answer is "yes." However, responding to a more insightful question asked at the start of the article, "What does it mean for DSE to be included within the interconnected fields of social justice and multiculturalism?" allows speculation upon new ways in which groups can become allies working together within research and teacher education toward a more socially just world, inclusive of human differences.

A major advancement has been that disability and education are no longer confined to the monopoly of special education and its theoretical shackles. DSE has provided a valuable alternative to the master script of disability, and its inclusion with other multiple markers of identity have legitimized its belonging within issues of social justice. Likewise, DSE has a lot to learn from the other scholarship featured in these anthologies. DS in general has been charged with being "White" (Bell, 2006), and DSE has recently been critiqued for paying insufficient attention to the complexities involved in educational research on race and disability, thereby missing important knowledge in how longstanding problems such as the overrepresentation of students of color in disability categories continued to be reproduced (Artiles, 2011).

In a recent special edition of Teachers College Record dedicated to DSE, Baglieri, Bejoian, Broderick, Connor and Valle (2011) openly call for alliance with other fields of study, and feature scholars using Critical Race Theory, Whiteness Studies, Queer Theory, and Feminist Studies. The authors argue that

If each discipline only engages in and promotes its "own agenda," it forgoes opportunities to experience mutual benefits that include experiencing the power of expansive and diverse dialogues, a deeper and more complex knowledge of exclusive practices on a larger scale, and the strength and synergy that coalitions can provide. Disability can therefore serve as a framework through which to see other experiences, and other frameworks through which to see disability. (p. 2148)

Several projects and nascent alliances have developed over the past few years that symbolize a greater expansiveness in the field of DSE. For example, in their work Unspeakable Offenses: Untangling Race and Disability in Discourses of Intersectionality, Erevelles and Minear (2010) combine Critical Race Feminist Theory and Disability Studies to illustrate "how individuals located perilously at the intersections of race, class, gender, and disability are constituted as non-citizens and (no)bodies by the very social institutional institutions (legal, educational, and rehabilitational) that are designed to protect, nurture, and empower them" (p. 127). This work illustrates ways in which theorizing in more nuanced, intricate ways can help us understand how all of these categories intersect with each other. In another example, scholars are currently exploring new theoretical frameworks that are composed of elements from within existing fields. For instance, by culling elements integral both to DSE and CRT, Annamma, Connor and Ferri (in progress) have developed tenets and created a new framework of Disability Critical Race Studies (DisCrit). This evolved, in part, due to a desire to understand race and dis/ability beyond what is currently possible by using each field of study separately, and moving toward a more precise understanding of life positioned at these interstices.

In addition to forging new ways of theorizing, DSE's reclaiming disability as diversity rather than abnormalcy has increasingly been incorporated into the general landscape of education. For example, a recent edition of Rethinking Schools featured a very practical article called 10 Quick Ways to Analyze Children's Books for Abelism (Myers & Bersani, 2010), possibly introducing the concept of ableism to many of its readers. In another example, the annual conference for the National Association of Multicultural Education has recently began to encourage submissions in the category of DS (http://nameorg.org/).

In closing, the examples above are born from rising to Linton's (1998) challenge of thinking critically about how to leverage disability as "a juncture that can serve both academic discourse and social change" (p. 1). Through the analysis of three contemporary anthologies, I posit that as the formerly uninvited guest at the table of diversity within education, disability now sits in its rightful place among peers. Like other markers of identity, its value lies in illustrating new ways of interpreting the world with view to providing ways to counter the many social injustices that currently exist and impact upon us all, albeit in very diverse ways.


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  1. Sections are: (1) doing diversity and multiculturalism; (2) placing whiteness within diversity; (3) race and ethnicity; (4) sexuality and gender; (5) social and economic class; (6) religion as diversity; (7) physical diversity; (8) urban and rural diversity; and (9) diversity, multiculturalism, and leadership.

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  2. Sections are: (1) historical and theoretical perspectives; (2) international perspectives on social justice and education; (3) race, ethnicity, and language; (4) gender and sexuality; (5) bodies and disability; (6) youth; (7) globalization; (8) teacher education and school change; and (9) classrooms, pedagogy, and practicing justice.

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  3. Sections are: (1) historical perspectives; (2) theoretical intersections; and, (3) social justice pedagogy and practice.

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  4. Excluding disability-specific chapters.

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