One of the major obstacles to centering disability in classrooms is that "teachers are not impervious to cultural narratives of disability that too often lead to aversion or erasure of disability" (Baglieri and Lalvani 7). This is particularly true of the K-12 system, where disability can remain the sole domain of special education for both students and instructors. In Undoing Ableism: Teaching About Disability in K-12 Classrooms, Susan Baglieri and Priya Lalvani engage K-12 educators in the work of incorporating disability into their classroom by focusing on aspects of disabled experience. This book provides guidance for teachers to engage students in learning about disability as an area of declarative knowledge needed for social justice pedagogy. In this way, they offer disability concepts and learning materials that are not simply a superficial retrofit to existing curricula but that work to center learning about disability.

As a sourcebook for teaching disability, Undoing Ableism guides instructor development by providing classroom teaching materials and lesson framing. The book begins by orienting instructors to disability studies and critical inquiry and then moves into topics and methods for instructing students. Chapters One and Two constitute a theoretical introduction to central concepts in disability studies, namely that disability is socially constructed and shaped by medical and educational institutions (among others). Chapters Three and Four introduce critical inquiry and establish guidelines for using discussion-based inquiry to understand disability and ableism. Chapters Five through Eleven cover content, pedagogy, and resources for teaching various disability and ableism topics, including how they are understood today, the history of each, disability rights and culture, and positionality and activism. Each chapter is relatively self-contained, including a brief introduction, guidance for teaching the topic, and resources for classroom use.

Baglieri and Lalvani use a social justice framework for this project, encouraging "struggling and grappling with one another toward change through democratic and pluralistic engagement" through "critically examining issues of justice and equity by attending to multiple perspectives, working with others in collectives and taking social action" (27). For Undoing Ableism, primarily directed towards nondisabled instructors with little background in disability studies and history, this means that Baglieri and Lalvani's aim is to educate the teacher-reader while also motivating them to put into practice some of the classroom lessons they provide. Undoing Ableism is written with a mainstream classroom in mind but assumes that classes may have a mix of disabled and nondisabled students—and notes that disability education is vital in that, by ignoring or minimizing these discussions, "we miss the opportunity to instill in children an appreciation for human differences… and to support futures in which they can participate in building more inclusive communities'' (Baglieri and Lalvani 4). As the aim of this sourcebook is to encourage participatory action and agency for change, this book could also be a useful resource for a special education classroom with some thoughtful adaptation.

Baglieri and Lalvani's 200-page sourcebook is capacious, as expected for such an ambitious project. Since the book encompasses the spectrum of K-12 education, sections of it need to be adapted for use at varying levels. It speaks well of Undoing Ableism's project and the authors' execution that I found myself wanting further materials. Even so, their generous attention is curiously lacking in regard to one topic: Universal Design for Learning. In some ways, Baglieri and Lalvani are participating in UDL but do not engage with it explicitly as a topic. This book positions disability and ableism in a social context, inviting students and instructors to grapple with those realities. However, as it is also in some ways a primer on disability topics important to instruction, it seems a strange choice to not explicitly address UDL even as it weaves elements of multimodality and access into other chapters. For example, other notable scholarship on UDL encourages instructors to promote access via assignments that seek to naturalize tenets of UDL, such as how Sean Zdenek describes the importance of teaching students to caption multimodal video components. While UDL has often existed as a retrofit across structure (Dolmage, Academic Ableism), the larger social justice framework of Baglieri and Lalvani's project suggests that Undoing Ableism would welcome a similar introduction to UDL and the instructional framework that UDL supports. This is a missed opportunity for bringing UDL into classroom practices, as learning to create accessible education structures can be useful for students to understand the materialities of learning.

Although not a K-12 instructor myself, these resources excited my imagination and could easily be adapted for post-secondary or other educational contexts—the chapter introductions in particular might work very well for introducing post-secondary students to these topics. Undoing Ableism would be a useful resource in teacher education programs. For instance, it provides conceptual context on disability in society and education and would assist future educators in considering how to meaningfully incorporate disability perspectives into their classrooms. Undoing Ableism's attention to integrating disability study into mainstream K-12 classes is timely and needed, especially because other sourcebooks tend to focus solely on implementation of UDL (e.g. Rose, Meyer, Strangman and Rappolt; Hall, Meyer, and Rose) or on teaching in special education classrooms. The philosophical framework in Chapters One and Two works particularly well to orient an unfamiliar educator to the nuances of disability while establishing why disability deserves thorough and thoughtful attention in a mainstream education class. Chapters Nine and Ten discuss disability culture and pride, as well as contemporary perspectives on each, and may be of interest as a brief but thoughtful look at disability as a complex yet generative experience.

Though I would have liked to see some topics addressed in more detail, I found Undoing Ableism to be an accessible but comprehensive heuristic guide to incorporating the study of disability and ableism in K-12 education. Each of the topic-focused chapters (five through eleven) includes an introduction that elaborates on each topic appropriately, as well as structured material for discussing the content with students. Thus, the sourcebook links conceptual knowledge of disability to teaching practice in an accessible and motivating way. Furthermore, the variations in teaching materials encourage instructors to tailor the resources to students' relevant Zone of Proximal Development. Likewise, Baglieri and Lalvani establish in Chapter Four that instructors might consider how language arts, biology, and math classes (among others) might meaningfully integrate the study of disability and ableism, rather than solely taking a general studies approach. The flexibility of topics and materials make Undoing Ableism a valuable resource that empowers instructors to incorporate disability in a way that values and respects disabled perspectives.

Works Cited

Return to Top of Page

Copyright (c) 2021 Katelin Anderson

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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.

Beginning with Volume 36, Issue No. 4 (2016), Disability Studies Quarterly is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license unless otherwise indicated. 

Disability Studies Quarterly is published by The Ohio State University Libraries in partnership with the Society for Disability Studies.

If you encounter problems with the site or have comments to offer, including any access difficulty due to incompatibility with adaptive technology, please contact

ISSN: 2159-8371 (Online); 1041-5718 (Print)