Wendy Harbour and Joseph Madaus's Disability Services and Campus Dynamics features ten essays, each which address the role of disability in higher education. The book offers various recommendations for rendering the academic institution more accessible to students, faculty, and staff of varying abilities. The text begins by visualizing disability as diversity and reframes our notion of disability as being an individual detriment that must be fixed, eradicated, or overcome, to one that is instead enmeshed within both context and culture (32). As a recent graduate and someone who has been invested in increasing the visibility of disability—particularly mental disability—on my own undergraduate campus, I find Harbour and Madaus's edition to be very informative. At a time when an increasing number of students with disabilities are receiving a college education (the rate of students with disabilities participating in higher education has doubled in the past twenty years), academic institutions are forced to reconsider the structures implemented for addressing disability on their campuses and explore the many complications that come with notions of "accommodation." Although intended primarily for practitioners, teachers, and disability service administrators, Disability Services and Campus Dynamics is an edifying resource for anyone invested in probing questions surrounding issues of disability, especially within the context of education. Harbour and Madaus's collection of essays feature a curious blend of institutional, medical, and disability-studies perspectives, and they seem—in many ways—to bridge the often-antagonistic tensions between disability services, which can often be considered as rehabilitative in its focus, and disability studies, which centers itself around diversity and difference rather than mere inclusion.

[Erratum: This review was originally published with an incorrect year in the following paragraph. It was updated on 2/4/13.]

The book begins with a history of disability services in higher education. It starts with a narrative of President Lincoln signing in 1864 a mandate permitting the creation of a college division at the Columbia Institution for the Deaf and Dumb. It then moves to the role of technology and the advent of digital media, both whose suppleness—the text suggest—might help to accommodate not simply those labeled "disabled" but rather a variety of learners. Much of Disability Services and Campus Dynamics is focused on disability services and the various ways their effectiveness on campus might be strengthened. Throughout the text we are encouraged to modify our conception of these services as simply sites that provide individualized accommodation for individual students, and consider—instead—the ways in which these services work to craft a more encompassing experience for everyone. The book's multiple essays thus feature a shift from the singular to the plural, the one to the many. The concept of universal design most forcefully marks this transition, for it offers a curriculum that, rather than upholding a set of normalizing standards to which some excel and others founder, is stretchy enough to hold everyone whose minds and bodies operate on a continuum of difference.

Disability Services and Campus Dynamics also ventures to turn the focus away from students (who are often the group considered to be the object of "struggle") towards staff and faculty with disabilities, of whom an estimated one in five may need accommodation of some kind (45). It is cited that on seventy-five percent of campuses in the U.S. disability services are offered only to students (45). Utilizing the University of Minnesota's "UReturn" Program as an example of service that promotes confidentiality, neutrality, and early intervention (54), Dave Fuecker and Harbour make a concerted effort to transfigure the conventional understanding of disability as a place of subjection, or disability as needing to be "altered" by a figure of authority, to instead being universal—suggesting that we understand disability as expressing a mutual dependency among all involved within the educational system. This particular essay opens up space for rethinking the dynamic between faculty and students—how might shared narratives of disability enable us all?

There is mention, too, of faculty's often strenuous efforts to pass within the university in hopes that their disability is not revealed at risk of proving vulnerable and unfit for the demands of their employment. Fuecker and Harbour suggest that faculty receive pressure from their institutions to produce scholarship "largely to protect human capital" (47). This particular chapter is resonant of recent analyses of queer and crip time, both which resist this logic of performance ensconced within particular time frames (see, for example, Judith Halberstam's In a Queer Time and Place). In these attempts to adhere to the strict, temporal calls of the tenure-track trajectory or semester deadline, the status quo of disabling structures at the cost of others' gain is only sustained. By promoting the use of such services like "UReturn," there is hope that individuals begin to see the academy as more welcoming, less rigid—more moldable to the multiple needs of various individuals and less standardized.

In addition to pointing out groups that many of us may not always consider to be members of the disability community (such as GLBTQ students, student athletes, and international students), of particular interest to me is the section on psychiatric disability, a subset of disability studies that has come somewhat belatedly to issues of somatic or physical disability. With recent conversations such as those posed in Margaret Price's Mad at School, which discusses the place of mental disability in the academy, Disability Services and Campus Dynamics provides pragmatic approaches to the increasing number of students on campus struggling with psychological or psychiatric disabilities, a number that has significantly increased within the past decade (12). Many of the essays' authors suggest the development of a new social model, one that is intent on securing mental health experts on campus, managing disclosure and confidentiality, regulating safety and heath concerns, and providing proper accommodations.

I was a bit troubled by these segments regarding psychiatric disabilities' seeming preoccupation with harm (for example, there are quite a few references to the development of a Threat Assessment Team) that individuals struggling with psychiatric disabilities might impose on the community at large, and I may have appreciated a stronger focus on the stigma faced by those struggling with these particular—and often misunderstood—disabilities, a stigma that can often be as damaging as the illnesses or disorders themselves (see, for example, the PSA for BringChange2Mind). Yet nonetheless, Disability Services and Campus Dynamics is admirable for its push towards an active, rather than passive posture surrounding disability. It advocates a concentrated break past the status quo, which is often protected by a conceding compliance with legality and existing structures, to dynamically find ways to access "a place of inclusion and integration of students" (34). This movement implies a reach towards flux and fluidity, a directionality that break down the often rigid stability of diagnoses and labels, which again work to forcefully project fault and ineptitude on individuals themselves rather than the structures that contain them.

Disability Services and Campus Dynamics can be a bit dry at times and veers occasionally into a more medicalized approach to disability, which disability scholars might find somewhat constricting. However, it nonetheless provides a fruitful melding of the practical—which is too often left out of academic discourse—and the theoretical. And Harbour and Madaus mention, in addition to the presence of disability services, the importance of colleges and universities implementing disability studies programs into curriculums, an effort they believe will work to transcend the banality of accommodations in individual classrooms to a larger experience—one that extends to social, cultural, and political contexts (93, 95).

Harbour and Madaus's series of essays continue the many discussions surrounding disability in the context of higher education. Some questions that I would still like to see further explored might be: how might we begin to address the number of students that arrive on campus unaware of their disabilities? With psychiatric disabilities, in particular, the transition from high school to college can be triggering; what are ways we can not only encourage these students to find help but attempt to modify the mindset of the institution at large, rendering it more receptive to the multiplicity of minds that enter its doors?

Works Cited

  • Davis, Lennard. "The End of Identity Politics and the Beginning of Dismodernism: On Disability as an Unstable Category." The Disability Studies Reader, ed. Lennard J. Davis. Second Edition. New York: Routledge, 2006. 231-242. Print.
  • Harbour, Wendy S., and Joseph W. Madaus, eds. Disability Services and Campus Dynamics. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011. Print.
Return to Top of Page