The field of special education has been challenged by disability studies scholars for at least thirty years (Baglieri, Valle, Connor and Gallagher, 2011). To review a book on Special Education research design and methodologies for a Disability Studies audience puts me in a precarious position: how does the book acknowledge divergent perspectives on disability within a field typically informed by medical, psychological, and remedial approaches? For a disability studies scholarly audience, it goes without saying that reliance on the medical model alone for conceptualizations of disability is a major problem. This book threads the needle.

The organization of the book is straightforward for a book project aimed at introducing research methods for an entire social scientific field. There are chapters on research variables, questions and hypotheses, measurement and statistics, ethical guidelines and approaches, validity, quantitative and qualitative approaches, and reviews of the literature. There is also a detailed chapter approaching how to analyze and write a research article for publication. The authors end with a call for future research to address some of the gaps in the literature, the need for replication studies, and more pluralistic approaches to special education. The authors regularly interject insights into common processes that differentiate their work from standard research methods texts in the social sciences.

Rumrill, Cook and Stevenson, along with the co-authors of the chapter on qualitative methods, try a big tent approach to special education. The co-authors augment traditional special education research which has prioritized experimental designs, quasi-experimental and single subject case designs with a wide array of qualitative methods including autoethnography and narrative inquiry, among others. The authors acknowledge the bias of the field toward qualitative and humanistic approaches and argue for an inclusion of qualitative research within the field of special education and outline tentative approaches to archival research (some of this content was also in the second edition of the volume: not reviewed here). This is an important step in a conservative field at least three or four decades in the making and it will likely make enemies in a field increasingly dominated by a singular methodological understanding of evidence-based practices.

The extent to which disability studies scholarship has informed this book is difficult to assess as it takes a fairly neutral stance on special education. The authors clearly delineate at the beginning of the book that research in special education can involve disabled people and their families, which is preferred for most disability studies in education scholars. While the methods, ethics, research designs, and sample articles all feature fairly common language, ideas, and concepts in special education, I was left wondering how this work may be expanded to have deeper and more specific conversations about conducting research with disabled people. Specifically, conversations could focus on the ethics of informed consent, the very real conflict of taking time away from students whose most common accommodation is extra time, and what beneficence means in the context of oppressive systems of categorization. What does it mean that in the final chapter about the future of the field of special education, race, ethnicity and linguistic minority status do not even appear in the student populations section?

I cannot help but ponder over the many theories and approaches currently shaping the fields of qualitative research and of disability studies in education and how they are absent: critical race theory, intersectionality through a black feminist lens, decolonizing approaches, international contexts, decarceration, and discussions of embodiment/bodymind/body. Perhaps these exclusions are because the text is introductory; an acknowledgement either way would be helpful for the disability studies community. Failure to disclose reads more like complicity with the status quo.


  • Baglieri, S., Valle, J. W., Connor, D. J., & Gallagher, D. J. (2011). Disability Studies in Education: The Need for a Plurality of Perspectives on Disability. Remedial and Special Education, 32(4), 267–278.
Return to Top of Page

Copyright (c) 2021 Aubry Threlkeld

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)