Disability Studies Quarterly
Spring 2006, Volume 26, No. 2
Copyright 2006 by the Society
for Disability Studies

IDEA at 30: Looking Back, Facing Forward—A Disability Studies Perspective

Jan W. Valle, Ed.D
Assistant Professor
School of Education
Department of Leadership and Special Education
City College of New York
138th Street and Convent Avenue
New York, New York 10031
E-mail: jvalle@ccny.cuny.edu

David J. Connor, Ed.D
Associate Professor
Department of Special Education
School of Education
Hunter College, City University of New York
695 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10021
E-mail: dconnor@hunter.cuny.edu

D. Kim Reid, Ph.D.
Department of Curriculum and Teaching
Teachers College, Columbia University
525 W. 120th St
New York, NY 10027
E-mail: dkr10@columbia.edu


This special issue of Disability Studies Quarterly is based upon four papers presented at the 5th annual National Conference on Disability Studies in Education (2005) sponsored by Teachers College, Columbia University. The four papers address the 2005 conference theme: The 30th anniversary of IDEA and Its impact on American Schools and Society. In addition, the issue includes eight responses from scholars invited to comment upon these four cornerstone papers. Thus, our introduction to the special issue is divided into four sections that tie together ideas presented in the four major papers and eight responses: (1) IDEA and public opinion (2) IDEA and the institutionalization of ableism and racism; (3) IDEA enactment and consequences; and (4) IDEA resistance and the countering of deficit-based assumptions of disability. We conclude with our reflection upon these ideas as well as a vision of disability studies in education for the next thirty years.


This special issue of Disability Studies Quarterly represents a select body of work presented at the 5th Annual Disability Studies in Education Conference. We (guest editors, Jan Valle, David Connor, and D. Kim Reid) served as co-chairs of the annual national conference hosted in May 2005 by Teachers College, Columbia University (New York). The four conference papers selected for this special issue address the 2005 conference theme: The 30th Anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Its Impact on American Schools and Society. Two response papers, written by conference participants, accompany each of the four major papers.

The establishment of the national Disability Studies in Education (DSE) conference as an annual event reflects the vision and commitment of a group of noted scholars. The inaugural DSE event, hosted in June 2001 by National-Louis University (Chicago) and coordinated by Valerie Owen, Terry Jo Smith, and Paula Neville, represents the first conference dedicated to scholarship in the emerging discipline of disability studies in education. Featured speakers at this conference included Ellen Brantlinger, Scot Danforth, Susan Gabel, Lous Heshusius, Bill Rhodes, and Linda Ware–scholars whose collective work offered groundbreaking reconceptualizations of disability relative to educational research, policy, and practice.

Since then, four subsequent national DSE conferences have taken place. The original group of scholars co-chaired the second annual DSE conference (2002)–Education Social Action, and the Politics of Disability–as well as the third conference (2003)–Traversing the Chasm Between Disability Studies and Education. Ron Ferguson, representing The Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University hosted the fourth conference (2004) in Ruston, Louisiana–Reforming, Restructuring, Resisting in Special Education. As stated previously, papers from the most recent DSE conference (2005) constitute the content of this special issue.

The inaugural conference established a dialogic culture in which experienced scholars, junior scholars, and graduate students exchanged ideas, challenges, and interests pertaining to disability studies in education. Upholding this tradition, successive conference coordinators have continued to open space for presenters in all stages of their careers. In fact, no degree designations are included in conference programs, reflecting the spirit of egalitarianism and respect among all participants.

We constructed this special issue to include papers authored by four presenters and response papers by eight conference participants in an effort to reflect the dialogic nature of DSE conferences. In keeping with DSE tradition, the special issue is comprised of papers written by experienced scholars, junior scholars, and graduate students. It is our belief that this configuration of papers captures the rich intellectual exchange that has come to define DSE conferences.

IDEA and Public Opinion: The Growth of an Unruly Child and the "Truth" About Special Education

In the first featured article, Nancy Rice offers an opportunity to contemplate how, for the past thirty years, special education has been constructed for consumption by the general public. Interest in the education of students with disabilities is not merely confined to professional books, journals, and legal briefs, but rather is freely available–or perhaps more accurately, available for the price of a newspaper. In a media-saturated world, newspapers wield great influence by providing specific knowledge(s) which constantly shape public consciousness. Carefully crafted headlines serve as gateways into specific information that, like all knowledge, is located within certain values and ideologies. In brief, editorials are neither value-free nor neutral. Yet, the longstanding authority of a newspaper legitimizes the knowledge it prints, or as Rice prefers, "constructs." Thus, editorial statements are issued not only from a position of power, but once statements are authorized, they are imbued with that power. The circulation of statements about special education influences how it is portrayed for the purview of, in the case of The New York Times, largely middle-class "mainstream" America. Through her use of critical discourse analysis, Rice examines editorials (from the The New York Times) that address special education, thereby rendering visible many of the usually hidden discourses operant within these circulations of power.

Recognizing the inseparability of power and knowledge, Foucault (1980) calls attention to the use of the power/knowledge nexus in claims of "truth."

Truth is to be understood as a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation and operation of statements...truth is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which extend it. A 'regime' of truth...is not merely ideological or superstructural; it is a condition of the formation and development of capitalism (p. 133).

Given Foucault's explanation, it appears relevant to consider two questions: what is "the regime of truth" about special education and who gets to decide that truth? Rice's analysis of editorials reveals a preponderance of powerful people–editors, politicians, and policy makers–who overwhelmingly convey a sense of dissatisfaction with "the state of special education." In a nuanced examination of language used and the emotional responses such language triggers, Rice finds that special education is cast as a dangerous, unwieldy monster, and a devourer of resources–put simply, not worth the money spent on it. The discourse of capital, that is, the cost-effectiveness of financial resources required to educate students with disabilities, clearly undergirds the discussion about the overall value of special education. Monetary investments without return do not sit well with people whose money has been invested. Concerned taxpayers are left to wonder at historically high drop out rates and, inversely, dismal graduation rates of students with disabilities (Lipsky & Gardner, 1997). In addition to the discourse of capital, discourses of disability–including legal, medical, and charitable–overlap and tangle with each other throughout Rice's findings. All of these discourses posit the disabled body as troublesome–in need of scrutiny and monitoring, to be protected, and/or cured/fixed, and/or cared for, positioning individuals with disabilities as the most vulnerable members of the population.

While sounding innocuous on its own, the word "placement" in conjunction with "special education" overwhelmingly signifies a segregated placement, which in turn, put bluntly, means containment. That special education, from its early days, has come to be viewed in the public school systems and in the public eye, as primarily a place and not a service, reveals how decisions to educate children with disabilities have veered from the intent of the original law (Reynolds, 1989). Despite being proclaimed otherwise in reauthorizatons of IDEA and within the rhetorics of inclusive reform, it is highly problematic that special education is synonymous with separate from general education. In her analysis of editorials, Rice also reveals the reification of "us" and "them," the non-disabled and the disabled, in the processes of schooling. The former begrudgingly acknowledge the need for students with disabilities to be educated, but only to a point–as long as the "rights" (perhaps better understood as privileges) of non-disabled students are not impinged upon.

The multi-layered theme of power running throughout Rice's work is taken up, and elaborated upon, in the response of Robin Smith. Smith calls attention to politicians and policy makers who publicly comment on cycles of general threat (e.g., "A Special Ed. Warning for New York") who then calculatedly proffer reassurances (e.g., "A Meaningful School Budget at Last") that appear more self-serving than centered on the concerns of people with disabilities. By overlooking glaring inequities in the quality of life, both in and out of school, for student with disabilities, such powerbrokers–no matter how well-intentioned–can at best only advocate for limited reform, which inevitably translates into an ineffective incremental approach. Culling from the work of Lakoff (1996, 2004), Smith uses the notion of frames through which to view conservative and progressive orientations as differing forms of family values–positioning a "strict father" and a "nurturing parent" against one another. She sees the allegedly progressive New York Times as a sheep masquerading in wolf's clothing; liberal in defending the rights of others, but quite conservative in matters pertaining to special education. This disingenuousness is dangerous because the power invested in such a "liberal" newspaper allows it to create the illusion of supporting the fundamental concept of equality among all citizens while actually bolstering the privilege of the non-disabled.

Smith recognizes that many of the editorials are complicit in the manufacturing of (current) consent through providing material that is immediately woven into the ongoing fabric of (current) "mainstream" reality. It should be pointed out that, by partaking of the manufacturing of consent that serves to reinforce the status quo, The New York Times chooses to minimize or omit important alternative discourses of disability that could contribute to changing the status quo–discourses that are noticed by the next respondent to Rice.

Beth Ferri extends the conversation initiated by Rice to include critiques of special education that challenge taken-for-granted assumptions about students with disabilities, and the overrepresentation of students of color in special education (tellingly, and not without irony, a topic underrepresented in mainstream press). Unpacking these discourses and viewing them as a call to action, Ferri broadens and necessarily complicates the discussion by attending to significantly less represented points of view, thereby decentering the most powerful voices. With reference to inclusive practices, she notices that the allowing of students with disabilities into general education is often deemed possible only for those who approximate socially-constructed notions of "normalcy." Such practices, she believes, serve only to reinforce harmful ideas of normalcy instead of challenging, or better yet, dismantling them.

In looking at the same issues within the Black press, Ferri finds discourses of social equality intermingled with discourses of race and social class. In this context, special education is characterized, in the words of one concerned citizen, as the removal of Black children (usually males) from the express train to placement on the local track

(i.e. never to catch up). In another instance, special education is described as a "not so special reservation...[an] educational purgatory." Thus, historical patterns of removal and containment according to race and/or disability still exist within everyday schooling practices. Such issues of inequity, as Ferri notes, do not warrant coverage within The New York Times editorials; rather, attention is focused upon a reluctant, begrudging acceptance of special education as an institution that has made commendable strides, but should be contained in its place.

Altogether, Rice, Smith, and Ferri reveal the limitations of mainstream press in the portrayal of special education. Collectively, their articles urge that the restrictive and often damaging knowledge of legal, medical, and charitable discourses be countered continuously with those of historical, cultural, and social equality. Only then can items identified by those in power shift from finances, containment, and blaming the less powerful in the form of begrudging benevolence to issues of access, equal opportunity, greater understanding of, and respect for, human diversity.

IDEA and the Institutionalization of Ableism and Racism

The next set of papers raises concerns about the often unrecognized institutionalization of ableism and racism in special education. Gregg Beratan offers a courageous and timely deconstruction of IDEA 2004, often heralded as the "civil rights" legislation of special education. Beratan's hermeneutical interrogation, however, leads him to note otherwise: he asserts that "the meanings of disability embedded within IDEA actively construct disabled students' marginalized positioning within schools" (this issue, italics added). Foucault's definition of truth (cited earlier) makes clear IDEA's power as "truth maker." IDEA not only delineates, but also instantiates "a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, and operation of statements"–statements that delimit a norm (and incidentally a whole host of professions), thereby acquiring the power to render students outside "the norm," vulnerable to isolation and heightened surveillance.

To illustrate, Beratan unpacks the section of the law on the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), revealing its assimilationist and hierarchical nature, deficit-driven assumptions about impairment (i.e., physical and cognitive conditions conceived as problematic), narrow focus on educational benefit, and privileging of professional expertise. He reveals a power nexus linked to racism that now constitutes the popular and professional "knowledge" that feeds the construction and maintenance of disability (i.e., oppression) and vice versa. In every case, these outcomes run counter to the tenets of disability studies, which has the potential, particularly when linked to critical race theory, to undermine this oppressive legislation and its discriminatory pedagogical effects. Indeed, the emancipatory role of the intellectual lies in providing "instruments of analysis" and "penetrative perceptions of the present" (Foucault, 1980, p. 62). Making educators aware of the covert ableism and racism this law institutionalizes is, then, the first step toward a counter-hegemonic praxis (i.e. reflection and dialogue leading to action, Freire, 1998).

Edward Fierros takes issue with some of Beratan's conclusions in their strong form. He argues that generalizing about the actual impact of the LRE is not possible, because there are both competing ideas about what constitutes an appropriate learning environment and variations in professional decision-making that are linked not only to ability/race/ethnicity, but also to the legal, economic, and social realities of local districts. In short, Fierros appeals to the discourses of pluralism, positionality, and capitalism: whether the implementation of IDEA 2004 plays out as Beratan suggests, he argues, just depends. As Foucault (1980) notes, '[N]othing in society will be changed if the mechanisms of power that function outside, below and alongside the State apparatuses, on a much more minute and everyday level, are not also changed" (p. 60).

And it is this idea that, in part, motivates Susan Peters' response. She challenges Beratan to move beyond deconstruction and take the next step of offering paths to emancipatory (re-)constructions of the meaning of disability and displacement of the cultural, pedagogical, political, and economic structures that support those meanings. She provides the examples of transformative litigation and strong public reaction to suggest some additional change mechanisms that promise to be effective. Furthermore, after extending and reinforcing Beratan's assertions, Peters adds that competing conceptions of justice also serve to obscure the ableism and racism inherent in the law. The dominant discourse of distributive justice that undergirds IDEA (and the No Child Left Behind Act) promotes a view of justice as the "material placement of material bodies in order to achieve 'equal' access and equity for individuals who have been materially defined" (Peters, this issue). However, labeled students are not only distributed within particular spaces, where they can easily be supervised, observed, and examined; rather, because they are, as Beratan notes, also hierarchically positioned as "less than" (Hall, 2000), labeled students are additionally positioned by rank. Although rank does not give them a fixed position in space, it does distribute them and circulate them "in a network of relations" (Foucault, 1977, p. 146). Such relational positioning is one of the most troublesome outcomes of special education in that it leads to infantilization, silencing, low expectations, and watered-down curriculum.

Taken together, this set of papers calls for the interlacing of disability studies and critical race theory together with serious consideration of local contexts. In conjunction, such analyses could promote the "research, deconstruction, direct advocacy, public pressure, and community organizing" (Peters, this issue) that might very well be able to make the difference Peters is calling for.

IDEA Enactment and Consequences in Local Contexts

Russell Rosen offers an illustration of the kind of change that Peters advocates. In the feature paper for the third set of articles, Rosen explicates the process by which mainstreaming practices for youth identified as deaf or hard of hearing (D/HH) evolved from IDEA's early mandates for audist instruction to the law's current inclusion of "language preferences" of D/HH students (including the recognition of sign language as a primary instructional language). The inaugural law (1975), with its groundbreaking mandate for placing students with disabilities in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), included the integration of D/HH students into general education classrooms with hearing peers and teachers. In practice, however, "integration" meant that D/HH students were expected to participate like "normal" students–in other words, to become "hearing" (communicating in spoken English language without reliance on sign language). Subsequent research studies confirmed that audist instruction, representing the kind of ableist assumptions that Beratan (this issue) contends are inherent within the law's definition of LRE, predictably created communication barriers rather than opportunities for D/HH students.

It is relevant to consider that early emphasis upon audist instruction for D/HH students reflects the "medical model" orientation (i.e., diagnosis, treatment, cure) in which IDEA is grounded. Although D/HH students (like other students with disabilities) won the right to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), the institutionalization of this right within the newly constructed "special" education system produced particular "regimes of truth" about disability and education (e.g., the medical model serves the best interests of students with disabilities). Foucault (1980) contends that the power inherent within institutions that carry out the work of human sciences (such as special education) "is always already there, that one is never 'outside' it (p. 14); however, he clarifies that this does not mean that "one is trapped and condemned to defeat no matter what" (p. 142). In fact, Foucault argues that "there are no relations of power without resistances; the latter are all the more real and effective because they are formed right at the point where relations of power are exercised" (p. 142).

Rosen's description of the process by which audist practices came to be replaced by language preferences of D/HH students illustrates Foucault's (1980) assertions regarding the potential of "real and effective" resistances to power (p. 142). In response to sobering statistics on the academic and social success of mainstreamed D/HH students, the American Deaf community, advocates, and researchers organized nationwide to campaign for changes in IDEA regulations. These efforts culminated in significant regulation changes as documented in the 1997 and 1999 reauthorizations of the law. Moreover, Rosen notes that the presence of interpreters in general education classrooms contributed to an increased interest in American Sign Language (ASL) and American Deaf community and culture among hearing students–reflected in the rapidly increasing number of high schools that offer ASL as a state-approved foreign language course. Drawing upon results of a national survey of high schools that offer ASL programs and classes for foreign language credit, Rosen reports evidence to support an increase in social interactions and relationships among D/HH students and hearing students. Thus, Rosen concludes that the changes to IDEA regulations "impacted not only D/HH students but also hearing students and the course of secondary education in general" ( this issue)–a consequence he understands as unintended yet significant.

Susan Baglieri extends Rosen's discussion by focusing upon the ongoing interplay between circulating "discourses of disability" and resulting "acts of interpretation" in regard to IDEA regulations and procedures. While acknowledging ableist assumptions embedded within the codified language of IDEA (for example, Beratan, this issue), Baglieri chooses instead to examine the social contexts in which the "language of the law" becomes enacted within the performances of individuals and systems. She turns to Board of Education v. Rowley as a case example.

The 1982 Rowley case, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the right to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) guarantees a basic–not maximum–level of access and educational benefit to students with disabilities, revolved around denial of a sign language interpreter for a mainstreamed d/Deaf first grade student. The child's d/Deaf parents (whose primary language was ASL) contended that a sign language interpreter would enable their daughter, a lip-reader, to maximize her full academic potential. School personnel denied the request on the grounds that there was evidence of some academic benefit to the child without an interpreter, thereby releasing them from any obligation to provide additional services.

In an effort to account for the particular "acts of interpretation" performed by local school personnel and the courts, Baglieri draws upon the work of Foucault (1972) and Fairclough (2001) in her examination of available and circulating "over-arching discourses" at the time the Rowley discussions took place. She concludes that these "acts of interpretation" were most likely influenced by, to one degree or another, the social efficiency model of public schooling, special education's "medical model" in which professionals are positioned as experts, conceptualizations of disability as undesirable, and/or notions of charitable public responses to disability. Whatever the nature of the actual conversations, the school's determination reflects an "ideology of disability" in which the educational potential of one d/Deaf child is seen as a poor investment–an ideology that mirrors language Rice (this issue) identifies within The New York Times editorials on special education. Thus, Baglieri (this issue) asserts that "[i]ntention, then, is liminal in the life of the law once it is authorized; it is the interpretation of the words that ultimately restrict or cultivate the educational lives of students who are served through IDEA" (italics in original).

Susan Gabel joins the conversation by reflecting upon the most timeworn struggle within public education–specifically, deciding who gets to decide what is in the best interest of American schoolchildren. If "acts of interpretation" are central to the quality of education students with disabilities receive, as Baglieri suggests (this issue), then "who decides" and upon "what basis" become critical questions in the everyday lives of students with disabilities.

Thinking about these questions in light of IDEA, Gabel applies Young's (1990) notion of "distributive systems" to the institution of special education. She takes heed of Young's assertion that distributive paradigms often obscure the unjust social conditions that created the need for distributive justice in the first place, particularly as individuals focus their energies upon navigating complex rules for resource allocation within such systems. If we assume unreliability within a distributive system such as special education, then who should decide? Gabel considers Rosen's powerful illustration of the successful efforts of the American Deaf community, advocates (including The National Association for the Deaf), and researchers in facilitating IDEA regulation changes to better serve D/HH students–yet raises questions about the "dilemma of diversity" which leads to questions about whose perspective ultimately prevails and under what circumstances. Thus, Gabel extends upon Rosen's discussion by urging scholars of disability studies in education to continue conversations around who gets to decide on behalf of disabled students, inherent problems in speaking for disabled students, and ways in which to construct social arrangements in which disabled students speak for themselves.

Collectively, Rosen, Baglieri, and Gabel ask us to consider important questions not only about whose truth determines educational policies regarding students with disabilities, but also how such "truth" becomes enacted by individuals and systems within local contexts and under what circumstances. This set of papers well illustrates the impact of circulating "discourses of disability" upon legal conceptualizations of disability and calls for our vigilance and action regarding the resulting consequences in the lives of students with disabilities.

IDEA Resistance: Countering Deficit-Based Assumptions of Disability

This set of papers addresses ways that metaphor both instantiates and opposes the pathologized, medicalized discourse of disability captured in and perpetuated by IDEA as well as the destructive and "anonymous background of the norm" (Mitchell & Snyder, 2003, p. 48) that the legislation assumes. The very existence of disability resists the societal and institutional (particularly educational) inclination toward conformity, while it also reflects back on shifts in normative expectations. Disability, for example, has had different meanings across time (Longmore & Umansky, 2001) and across cultures (Kalyanpur & Harry, 1999). Although normative bodies have no definitional core, impaired bodies are narrated (Mitchell & Snyder, 2003, p. 49), described as "outside the norm" and, therefore, worthy of definition, description, diagnosis.

Driven by her interest in infusing authentic, complex, and liberatory images of disability into higher-education curriculum, Liat Ben-Moshe, in the feature paper, reflects on her experience teaching Saramago's Nobel Prize-winning novel, Blindness. She problematizes the approach she and her colleagues in Israel took to teaching the novel several years ago, prior to her acquaintance with disability studies. As a solution to the stereotypic, typical reading of the novel as "about blindness," Ben-Moshe considers ways that students might be encouraged to think critically about, and perhaps reject, the all too familiar tropes about blindness the novelist employs. As a pivotal question, she asks, "What are the implications of teaching blindness as pure metaphor?" (this issue).

She answers the question in several ways, recognizing that reading is dialogic and depends on what readers bring to text (Bakhtin, 1984). Consequently, Ben-Moshe suggests asking students to consider the text from several possible angles–in relation to modern-day parallels; vis-a-vis contemporary social norms or, antithetically, existentialism; in light of Darwin's evolutionary vision of humankind; and/or through analysis of the interplays among identity constructs, such as ability, age, and gender. Her purposes are to promote an understanding of blindness that is faithful to blind persons' lived experiences and to make students cognizant of the ways that blind people are "Othered." Ben-Moshe ends with a list of recommendations to encourage students to become aware of the socio-political dimensions of disability experience.

In her response to Ben-Moshe, Linda Ware depicts two teaching experiences designed to motivate graduate-level, K-12 educators to reflect on the ways they might include emancipatory images of disability in their lesson plans. One experience, which Ware describes as an "immersion approach," was a concentrated summer institute and the second, the "embedded approach," infuses a masters program in Inclusive Education with a humanities-based, disability studies perspective. In both instances, the teachers initially performed disability in terms of the deficit-driven, diagnosis-oriented representation that Beratan describes as instantiated in IDEA. Ware's instructional goals are to "trouble the absolute categories proffered in special education theory" (this issue) and to "defy the once again tropes of disability" (this issue). She is hopeful that recent critiques of ableism signal a sea change in educational policy, yet remains concerned that teachers may not be prepared intellectually and emotionally to make the most of the opportunity such a sea change might provide to shift prevailing metaphors of disability.

Deborah Gallagher, on the other hand, suggests that a close reading of Blindness identifies fruitful, alternative interpretations of Saramago's apparent stereotyping. She provides examples of these more subtle metaphors, arguing that some might be interpreted as Saramago's "intentionally mocking...obtuse stereotype[s]" (this issue), poking fun at the "cultural imperialism and hegemony of the sighted world," and perhaps presenting blindness as a "different way of being in the world,' rather than as a catastrophe. These interpretations interrupt the dominant discursive positioning of disability and are, she asserts, precisely what makes the novel Blindness an important pedagogical tool.

Taken together, these three articles provide a thoughtful and provocative examination of disability metaphors as they operate in classrooms and in the culture at large. They also serve as invitations to resistance, recommending options for helping students from kindergarten through graduate school frame textual analyses of disability more sensitively. By enlarging their repertoire of potential responses to the ways that blindness, but most assuredly other types of disability as well, are typically portrayed, teachers at all levels could very likely improve their students'–and their students'–understandings and attitudes toward persons with disabilities. As Ware proposes, teacher educators might profitably use literature and other humanities genre (e.g., history, the arts) as vehicles to interrogate the dominant, medicalized discourse of disability that is the current bedrock of special education.

The Importance of Disability Studies in Education: The Next Thirty Years

Contemplating the 30th anniversary of IDEA and its impact on American education and society has given us much food for thought. Indeed, it is interesting to note that the field of disability studies itself is not much younger. Despite a history of innovative and insightful scholars contributing ongoing critiques of special education (see, for example, Gallagher, Heshusius, Iano, & Skrtic, 2004; Heshusius & Ballard, 1996), disability studies in education per se has only recently been formalized well within the last decade (Gabel, 2005). As part of the canon of disability studies, DSE is therefore a comparative latecomer. This may be attributed, in part, to the value placed upon education by society in general, other fields within academia being no exception. On the other hand, the initial slow growth of DSE is likely due to the dominance of "traditional" deficit-based conceptualizations of disability in special education, and the tenacious hold that field wields on the knowledge admitted and circulated via professional journals. Despite these formidable obstacles, scholars in this issue have endeavored to question and challenge, analyze and theorize, document and teach "disability" in creative and courageous ways, forging new ground in a relatively new discipline.

In this section, we not only look back at the last three decades, but forward into the next three. Culling from the work of all featured authors and others in the field of disability studies, we offer ten ways in which the issues raised in this edition may be envisioned for the future. Many of these suggestions are a continuation and strengthening of existing ways that scholars of disability studies in education have begun to challenge understandings of disability pervasive within the world of education. In addition, we propose some thoughts about ways in which disability studies in education may choose to expand.

1. Challenge longstanding representations of disability in the academic field of education. All authors, to varying degrees, support the need to redefine disability so that it is not primarily cast, and largely unquestioned, within a medical framework. Such longstanding notions have been challenged by reframing disability within social, cultural, and historical contexts (Danforth & Smith, 2005; Reid & Valle, 2005).

2. Challenge longstanding representations of disability in college classrooms. Ware, Ben-Moshe, Gallagher, and Fierros understand the benefits of challenging culturally enshrined notions of disability. Their provocative suggestions serve as models to destabilize any fixed, simple notions of disability. For example, the authors explore ways in which texts featuring disability can be taught to students at the college level who, in turn, will rely upon revised understandings of disability to inform their own instruction of children, adolescents, and adults.

3. Encourage interdisciplinary work with other fields of study. The work of Beratan, Ferri, and Peters highlight the need for alliances with scholars in Critical Race Theory. Studying the intersection of disability and race is a complex task that remains undertheorized by both disciplines and holds great potential in furthering our knowledge about how both markers of identity--race and disability--function in society. Other fields in which intersectional understandings have yet to be fully developed include Feminist Theory, LatCrit Theory, Queer Theory, and Class Theory, among others.

4. Surveil the surveillers; envision and advocate for different approaches to education. Legislation is viewed by Beratan as counterproductive and ultimately complicit in exacerbating societal inequities. IDEA has given rise to a bureaucratic management of identification and close monitoring children with disabilities. Given these excessive levels of surveillance, it is important to critique the apparatus of special education in an ongoing manner. However, Peters urges us to go beyond critiques in order to successfully challenge detrimental laws through advocacy, resulting in reconfigured organizations and programs that benefit individuals with disabilities in the context of their communities.

5. Support cultural diffusion. Rosen's work illuminates the benefits of cultural exchanges between those previously excluded from "mainstream" (by virtue of their "disability) and the non-disabled. The integration of d/Deaf and non-d/Deaf serve as an example of being with, working with, and learning with people once deemed irreconcilably different in terms of educational needs.

6. Prioritize the educational placement of students with disabilities. Gabel's concern with deciding who gets to decide is important because this issue will always be omnipresent. She reminds us of the need for people with disabilities to speak for themselves and the necessity to hold those in power accountable for making explicit their orientation and grounding. In connection with Gabel's concern, Baglieri raises questions about acts of interpretation of the law, and the role of personal disposition of professional personnel in ascertaining "appropriate" accommodations. We must note that the classroom has always been, and will likely continue to be, a contested space in terms of students with disabilities. Baglieri's concerns are shared by all of the authors who contemplate how much difference is allowed/tolerated/supported/financed in the classroom. The inclusion movement has been instrumental in defining placement as a basic right, not a privilege (Rizvi & Christensen, 1996); however, we must improve inclusive practices along with their expansion.

7. Resist standardization of students. Smith points to a generalized self-centeredness and lack of caring in American society, reflected throughout much of the educational discourse. Advocating a resistance toward conservative values of independence and competitiveness, Smith reminds us that interdependence is more likely to produce a caring society. Furthermore, she calls attention to inequities inherent in the No Child Left Behind Act, and acknowledges, along with Brantlinger (2004) that standardizing all pupils is a normalization process detrimental to those who do not, will not, or cannot approximate that norm.

8. Develop interdisciplinary relations within disability studies. Disability studies is widely recognized as an interdisciplinary field, yet we assert that it has, as yet, many untapped intradisciplinary possibilities. For example, Ware's work actively utilizes disability studies in the humanities and in education. This approach affords her powerful tools to destabilize troubling notions of disability, thereby facilitating the dismantling of enduring, harmful paradigms. In their stead, she is able to offer other, more authentic, "truthful" understandings of disability–largely borne of human experience.

9. Shape ambivalence toward disability. In very different ways, both Rice and Gallagher call attention to ambivalence and disability–reminding us that understandings of disability are often clouded with contradictions, simultaneously informed by multiple, and perhaps competing, discourses. Such situations open up possibilities for scholars of disability studies to opportunities to create a shape from the confusion, defining disability and in terms of form and position.

10. Acknowledging disability as political. Rice and many of her colleagues in this edition, ourselves included, view how and where students with disabilities are taught as an issue of social justice. This stance is often unwelcome in mainstream education journals (especially special education publications), and scholars within disability studies have risked having their work rejected (Gallagher, 2004), misunderstood (Heshusius, 1989; Reid & Valle, 2004) or vilified (Brantlinger, 1997). Notwithstanding such barriers, progress has been made toward the incorporation of disability studies in traditional journals. Furthermore, channels of communication with traditional special educators should remain open, regardless of deep seated differences (Andrews, 2000).


These suggestions are offered as a result of engaging with work produced by seasoned and novice scholars at the Disabilities Studies in Education Conference. The importance of this conference lies in its dialogic approach to engaging individuals in contemplating disability and education, acting as a seeding ground for new ideas pertaining to theory, research, and practice. The articles in this edition of Disability Studies Quarterly exemplify the diversity of interests within the current field of disability studies in education. We hope that you find them as intriguing, insightful, and valuable as we have.


Andrews, J. E., Carnine, D. W., Coutinho, M. J., Edgar, E. B., Forness, S. R., Fuchs, L., et al. (2000). Bridging the special education divide. Remedial and Special Education, 21(5), 258-260, 267.

Baker, B, (2002). The hunt for disability: The new eugenics and the normalization of school children. Teachers College Record, 104(4), 663-703.

Bakhtin, M. (1984). Rabelais and his world. (Trans. H. Iswolsky). Bloomington: University of Indiana Press.

Brantlinger, E. (1997). Using ideologies: Cases of non-recognition of the politics of reserach and practice in special education. Review of Educational Research, 67(4), 425-459.

Brantlinger, E. (2004). Confounding the needs and confronting the norms: An extension of Reid and Valle's essay. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 37(6), 490-499.

Danforth, S., & Smith, T. J. (2005). Engaging troubling students: A constructivist approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Fairclough, N. (1989/2001). Language and power (2nd ed.). Essex, England: Pearson Education Limited.

Ferri, B. A., Connor, D., Solis, S., Valle, J., & Volpitta, D. (2005). Teachers with LD: Ongoing negotiations with discourses of disability. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 38(1), 62-78.

Foucault, M. (1972). The archaeology of knowledge and the discouse on language (A. M. S. Smith, Trans.). New York: Pantheon Books.

Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. New York: Vintage Books.

Foucault, M. (1980). Truth and power. In C. Gordon (Ed.), Power/ Knowledge (pp. 109-133). New York: Pantheon Books.

Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Gabel, S. L. (Ed.). (2005). disability studies in education: Readings in theory and method. New York: Peter Lang.

Gallagher, D. (2004). Entering the conversation: The debate behind the debates in special education. In Challenging Orthodoxy in Special Education D. Gallagher, L. Heshusius, R. Iano, & T. Skrtic. (pp. 3-26). Boulder, CO; Love Publishing.

Gallagher, D. J., Heshusius, L., Iano, R. P., & Skrtic, T. M. (2004). Challenging orthodoxy in special education: Dissenting voices. Denver, CO: Love.

Hall, S. (Ed.). (2000). Representation: Cultural representations and signifying practices.
London: Sage.

Heshusius, L. (1989). The Newtonian mechanistic paradigm, special education, and the contours of alternatives: An overview. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 22, 402-415.

Heshusius, L., & Ballard, K. (Eds.). (1996). From positivism to interpretivism and beyond: Tales of transformation in educational and social research. New York: Teachers College Press.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. Section 1400-1487. (Supp. III,1997)

Kalyanpur, M. & Harry, B. (1999). Culture in special education. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Lakoff, G. (1996). Moral politics: What conservatives know that liberals don't. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Lipsky, D. K., & Gartner, A. (1997). Inclusion and School Reform: Transforming America's classrooms. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Longmore, P. K., & Umansky, L. (2001). The new disability history: American perspectives. New York: New York University Press.

Mitchell, D. T., & Snyder, S. L. (2003). Narrative prosthesis: Disability and the dependencies of discourse. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Reid, D. K., & Valle, J. (2004). The discursive practice of learning disability: implication for instruction and parent school relations. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 37(6), 466-481.

Reynolds, M. C. (1989). An historical perspective: The delivery of special education to mildly disabled and at-risk students. Remedial and Special Education, 10(6), 7-11.

Rizvi, F., & Christensen, C. (1996). Disability and the Dilemmas of Educational Justice. Buckingham, PA: Open Univesrity Press.

Young, I. M. (1990). Justice and the politics of difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press

Copyright (c) 2006 Jan W. Valle, David J. Connor, D. Kim Reid

Volume 1 through Volume 20, no. 3 of Disability Studies Quarterly is archived on the Knowledge Bank site; Volume 20, no. 4 through the present can be found on this site under Archives.

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