Politicizing self-advocacy: Disabled students navigating ableist expectations in postsecondary education
Keywords:ableism, self-advocacy, politicization, disabled students, higher education, accessibility, disability community
The student self-advocacy literature commonly claims that although self-advocacy is a vital skill that disabled students require to succeed in postsecondary education, many of these students experience a significant ‘skills-deficit’ in this area. This paper seeks to intervene in this literature by proposing opportunities to ‘politicize’ self-advocacy and move away from its individual, deficit-focused approach. To do so, the paper reports findings from a qualitative study at a research-intensive Canadian university. Interviews with 11 disabled students revealed a perception that there is an institutionally endorsed ‘right way’ to self-advocate that included expectations to: (1) register for formal accommodations; (2) embody visible/physical disability; (3) perform less disabled; and (4) make others comfortable. Rooted in ableism, these harmful expectations adopt misconceptions of disability as predictable and visible, and burden students with demands that they make their self-advocacy convenient for those to whom they are self-advocating. As a form of resistance to these ableist expectations, students described their own ‘better way’ of negotiating self-advocacy and disability on campus. This ‘better way’ offers opportunities for ‘politicizing’ self-advocacy by recognizing ableism and the harms of the self-advocacy model, affirming disabled student knowledge and community, and enacting their visions for institutional change. Vital to this politicization is a move away from staff and nondisabled-led initiatives like self-advocacy training to address a perceived skills-deficit in individual students. Politicizing self-advocacy moves instead towards disabled students as full partners in conducting research and informing student services and staff training based on their collective lived expertise and strategic practices.
Copyright (c) 2022 Emunah Woolf, Alise de Bie
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