Academic neoliberal ableism has considerable negative implications for all disabled academics, but specifically for the marginalization, liminality, and weakness of disabled graduate students. This is particularly true for the understudied and underrepresented disabled graduate students who are not native English speakers and who live in regions that are geographically and culturally distant from the English-speaking academic hegemony. This article addresses this gap by presenting a collaborative autoethnography of two disabled Israeli doctoral students. The analysis raised two themes. The first includes the complex aspects of learning to perform new academic roles – teachers, conference presenters and researchers – as disabled academics. The second includes our marginality in two contexts, namely our studied disciplines, which fail to see disability as a critical object, and the developing Israeli community of disability studies in which disabled scholars are underrepresented. On the basis of these themes, we identify four combined environments that mirror the intersection between global neoliberal ableism and the specific ableist culture found in Israel, which exacerbate our weakness, marginality, and liminality: The Israeli disability studies community, our discipline, the Israeli academy, and the English-speaking academy.
The current academic culture of neoliberal ableism has vast implications for all disabled academics. Yet disabled graduate students occupy a more vulnerable position compared with disabled faculty, who have the rights, protection, and benefits included in being full academic employees, and compared with disabled undergraduate students, who have specific policy and institutional offices responsible for their academic inclusion. This vulnerability is a major explanation for the theoretical underrepresentation of disabled graduate students. Yet this group's members who are not native English speakers and who live in countries that are geographically and culturally distant from the English-speaking academic center 2 are even further marginalized.
This article addresses this gap by presenting a collaborative autoethnography formulated by two disabled 3 Israeli doctoral students, one an electric wheelchair user who studies urban planning, the other a hard-of-hearing (henceforth: HoH) communication scholar. Our research reflects an intersection of two oppressive mechanisms: the global dominance of neoliberal academic ableism and the cultural structural ableism of Israeli society. This double marginalization leads to distinct forms of oppression of Israeli disabled graduate students in four different academic environments that constantly affect each other in ways that exacerbate our weakness, marginality, and liminality: The Israeli disability studies (henceforth: DS) community, our studied disciplines, the Israeli academy, and the English-speaking academy.
This oppressive network is demonstrated here by two themes found as mostly reflecting these students' position as lingually, culturally, and geographically distant from the general English-speaking academic hegemony. First, the complex aspects of learning to perform new academic roles while understanding how to gain specific accommodations, funding, and time as we learn to teach, to present our work in academic conferences in Israel and abroad, and to conduct research as disabled people who study disabled participants. Second, our marginality as the only disabled scholars who research disability has substantial implications for two contexts. These are our disciplines of study, in which disability is not considered a critical research subject, and the developing Israeli DS community, which often fails to adopt progressive perspectives and suffers from underrepresentation of disabled scholars. This often leads to silencing disabled voices and to preventing disabled graduate students from having the experienced and necessary guidance of a disabled role model.
We begin by introducing the different implications of academic neoliberal ableism to disabled undergraduate students and faculty staff while emphasizing the unique position of disabled graduate students. We then present the specific circumstances of the Israeli academy in terms of disabled students. Next, we explain the current research methodology and our personal context as grounding our collaborative autoethnography. After presenting the themes described above through our personal experiences, we turn to the discussion and conclusions. This final section describes how the four environments delineated earlier further our weakness, marginality, and liminality compared with what occurs with disabled graduate students from English-speaking contexts.
Disability and academy
Universities have been historically designed as social, cultural, and economic institutions for an exceedingly small group of "fit" elite members of society: primarily white, cisgender, heterosexual, upper-class, able-bodied men. Thus, disability is not welcomed or even imagined in academic institutions (Dolmage, 2017; Titchkosky, 2011; Carter et al., 2017). This academic culture is explained by Goodley's (2014) concept of neoliberal ableism. Neoliberal capitalism develops ableist political, economic, and cultural values that are based on marketization and portray an ideal citizen who is independent, adaptable, and self-sufficient. This concept emphasizes the centrality of ability (Goodley & Lawthom, 2019).
This perception of disabled academics as dependent and inefficient leads to a lack of funding due to the view of their needs as individual problems that require supernumerary "assistance" and that do not fall within the purview of overall budgeting (Dolmage, 2017; Titchkosky, 2011). Consequently, disabled academics are seen as money "costers" compared with able-bodied "earners" (Campbell, 2020; Olsen et al., 2020). Disabled academics are indeed present in academic spaces. However, these spaces' structural lack of access indicates the need to remove specific accessibility barriers. Furthermore, disabled academics' constant need for accessibility creates their position as "half in half out," perpetuating their systematic vulnerability compared to what able-bodied academics experience (Titchkosky, 2011). Another implication of seeing disabled academics as "helpless" is distinguishing disability within the current academic diversity discourse. This particular discourse serves neoliberal ideals by highlighting able-bodied bodies of different races, genders, ethnicities, and so on regarding their individuality, personal choices, and ability to control their destinies (Davis, 2011).
Thus, the increasing neoliberalist values of the academic system deepen the exclusion and marginalization of disabled academics (Olsen et al., 2020). This is manifested, among other ways, by the different and unique effect of time on disabled academics, a concept referred to as crip-time (Kafer, 2013; Price, 2011; Samuels, 2017). Disabled academics might need more time than others do to complete academic tasks, whether because of the time invested in getting accessibility accommodations (Finesilver et al., 2020); implications of their impairment, such as fatigue, slowness, or pain (Campbell, 2020); or the need for time-consuming treatments or necessary breaks (Hannam-Swain, 2018; Samuels, 2017). It is important to note that other time-consuming circumstances, like new parenthood, are viewed as more legitimate in the academy (Sang, 2017; Williams & Mavin, 2015).
Contemporary study of disability is also problematic. Disability is still understudied even in fields that purport to critique and discuss politics, such as social sciences and humanities (Carter et al., 2017; Titchkosky, 2011). However, DS as an independent field is well-established in English-speaking states due to the strong American and British disability rights activism, which emphasize the centrality of disabled people in making decisions regarding their lives (Shakespear, 2006; Charlton, 1998). Yet in practice, even DS departments worldwide adopt neoliberal standards, which enable able-bodied scholars easier career development (Sheldon, 2017). This reality affects three groups of disabled academics, including undergraduate students, faculty staff, and, in particular, graduate students.
Undergraduate students with disabilities are, in many ways, the most privileged group of the three. Their accessibility needs are often well-established within formal, organized disability policy through the practical assistance of disability offices in academic institutions. Disability service offices are fully responsible for providing these students' accommodations, assistance, and support, using tools such as assistive technology, testing accommodations, notetakers, class relocations, and more (Gilson & Dyamond, 2012; Kendall, 2016; Kimball et al., 2016; Raue & Lewis, 2011). However, the centrality of disability offices mirrors the lack of structural, sensorial, and geographical accessibility found on university campuses (Titchkosky, 2011) along with the inability of able-bodied faculty staff to make their classes, assessments, and discussions accessible to disabled students (Kimball et al., 2016; Kendall, 2016). All these aspects may explain these students' academic underrepresentation, longer time on average to complete their degrees, and higher risk to drop out of college (Kimball et al., 2016).
Disabled faculty experience the academy differently. "The additional unpaid labor" of getting physical and communicative accommodations is often conducted individually due to the structural gaps between the disability service office, which focuses on undergraduate student needs, and HR in the institution itself, which does not address disabled academic staff needs. These gaps result from a partial or nonexistent disability policy for academic employees (Merchant et al., 2020; Saltes, 2020b). In addition, disclosing one's disability may lead to stigma, which could harm one's promotion chances and could cause isolation in the work environment (Smith & Andrews, 2015; Price et al., 2017). Many disabled faculty members who struggle with crip-time cannot handle the constant burden and pressure of academic duties and expectations, including teaching, conducting research, writing, publishing, and attending (often inaccessible) conferences (Brown & Leigh, 2018; Olsen et al., 2020; Smith & Andrews, 2015; Waterfield et al., 2018). This might explain their severe academic underrepresentation in the overall faculty population (Merchant et al., 2019).
Disabled graduate students have similar difficulties that disabled staff and disabled undergraduates have, as they are also subjected to academic neoliberal ableism. However, disabled graduated students are also in a unique, liminal position at the academy (Carter et al., 2017). Liminality refers to the uncertain and complex social position a person holds during the transition from one social status to another, such as the process of earning a PhD. This process involves professional and personal status transition from students to scholars (Deegan & Hill, 1991; Salmona et al., 2016), which makes graduate students more vulnerable due to the academy's hierarchy and bureaucracy (Merchant et al., 2019). Consequently, graduate students' professional development might involve organizational barriers, such as power struggles, conflicts, and uncertainty. Their "in-between" position leaves them defenseless in these situations (Deegan & Hill, 1991).
Disabled graduate students have an additional liminal position. They no longer enjoy specific policies and assistance from a specified institutional office as disabled undergraduates, and they do not have the rights and protection of fully hired faculty yet (Carter et al., 2017; Pearson & Boscovich, 2019; Waterfield et al., 2018). As a result, dealing with constant inaccessibility intensifies their liminality and marginality. Most of the academic classrooms are designed as segregated spaces, where disabled people are expected to occupy certain separated areas as students. As teachers, some disabled graduate students face the lack of appropriate accessibility, such as wheelchair access to the stage. This inaccessibility derives from ableist expectations of the "proper" performance of academic roles, which would be likely to harm disabled graduate students' professional development (Saltes, 2020).
Thus, disabled graduate students' "additional labor" involves new and extensive aspects. They learn how to become scholars, which is the most important role learned during PhD studies (Deegan & Hill, 1991), conference presenters and organizers, teachers, publication authors, and scholarship and grant submitters (Brown & Leigh, 2018; Carter et al., 2017; Hannam-Swain, 2018). Many of these duties seem informal, such as attending academic conferences, as they are a quite limited aspect of an academic career (Williams & Mavin, 2015). However, in practice, attending conferences provides multiple networking and self-promotion opportunities and is thus a fundamental academic activity (Price, 2011). Yet disabled graduate students face significant barriers in attending conferences due to their complete or partial inaccessibility along with the disregard for the need of personal caregivers to attend (Carter et al., 2017; Dolmage, 2017; Hannam-Swain, 2018; see also Hubrig et al., 2020).
From a wider perspective, when it comes to future professional opportunities, disabled graduate students often lack disabled academics from whom to learn. This lack of role models is significant given the lived experience of the disabled body, one that could help disabled graduate students consider different, "disabled" academic career paths (Campbell, 2009). This aspect is especially important, as disabled graduate students might suffer from able-bodied senior faculty micro-aggression and lack of support (Johnston & Sanscartier, 2019). Certain disabled graduate student marginality within the field of DS makes disabled graduate student academic criticism "too radical" so is thus ignored (Carter et al., 2017; Sang, 2017). From a narrower perspective, another major barrier is the academic demand for excellent English skills, which might harm Deaf doctoral students, for whom English is their second language, in terms of academic publications, increased "impostor syndrome," and audistic perceptions of colleagues (Marchut et al., 2021). It may later become a considerable barrier in inaccessible conferences, unofficial networking opportunities, and promotions of both Deaf and HoH academics (Smith & Andrews, 2015).
This dominant literature on disabled academics, and on graduate students in particular, is based on American, British, Canadian, and Australian contexts. This focus on English-speaking states, their grounded disability discourse, and the academic taken-for-granted dominance of English as the lingua Franca (Jenkins, 2014) makes these regions a global academic hegemony of knowledge production (Demeter, 2019), especially when it comes to disability. English may become a serious barrier, for example, for HoH and Deaf Israelis, who have learned this second auditory language at school and struggle with it (Bitman, 2021; Domagala-Zysk & Epstein, 2018). Therefore, special attention should be given to disabled graduate students from other geographic and cultural contexts who are not native English speakers.
Disability and the Israeli Academy
Israel has followed the welcomed global trend of promoting policies that support disabled students in higher education, but only during the last decade. This first national formal process of promoting disabled students included two strategic developments. The first development was practical, namely, the National Insurance Institute's establishment, beginning in 2011, of support centers – the Israeli equivalent of disability service offices – which provide similar accommodations for disabled students in many academic institutions in Israel. The second development was legal: The legislation of The Higher Education Institutions' Accessibility Regulations, which clearly defined the academic institution's responsibility to provide on-campus and service accessibility. These regulations were established in 2016 and were scheduled to take full effect by 2018 (Almog, 2018; 2018b).
These developments led to a recent increased inclusion of disabled students in Israeli academia, after years of poor development of accessibility procedures by each academic institution (Almog, 2018b). However, an extreme underrepresentation of disabled students remains, vaguely estimated to be from 1% to 3% of the total student populations (Almog, 2018b; Knesset, 2018) compared with the estimated 17% of disabled citizens within the total Israeli population (Barlev et al., 2017). This underrepresentation has deep implications for the marginalization and current mostly inaccessible reality of many disabled students in Israel (Raviv-Carmi & Rot, 2017). Yet, there is a complete lack of formal information about disabled students, especially graduate students, in contrast to the systematically gathered information about other marginalized academic populations, such as women, Ultra-Orthodox Jews, Palestinians, or new immigrants (Almog, 2018b). In addition, this academic policy focuses on disabled undergraduate students and does not account for disabled graduate students.
Therefore, despite the Israeli academic "revolution" when it comes to disabled students, the general cultural ableism remains dominant (Ziv et al., 2016). The prevalent paternalistic, conservative, and collectivistic attitudes toward disabled Israelis are partially rooted in the importance of charity for the disabled as a key commandment of the Jewish tradition (Gershuni, 2018). Despite the arrival of a new disability rights discourse in the last decades (Rimon-Greenspan, 2007), disability policies and legislation are still influenced by values of charity, which are combined with neoliberal practices and maintain a heavy reliance on NGOs (Madhala & Gal, 2016).
This cultural climate directly shapes the academic field of DS. This is a relatively new field within Israeli academia. It lacks the American and British activist roots and was not funded and developed by disabled students or scholars (Almog & Gerber, 2016), which makes DS understudied, like in other middle eastern countries (Alshmmari, 2017). As a result, the Israeli DS field is still led by able-bodied academics and professionals from the fields of law, social work, special education, and occupational therapy and is mostly influenced by medical notions of disability that are closely related to welfare (Holler, 2018). Happily, in the recent years a few learning groups and research centers dedicated to the development of more critical thinking were established. Yet none of the academic institutions offer bachelor's, master's, or PhD programs in DS (Almog, 2018; Ziv et al., 2016).
In addition, specific financial circumstances are at stake. In contrast to undergraduate disabled students who are often supported by the National Insurance Institute for living and tuition expenses (Almog, 2018b), master's and PhD students are rarely supported. As a result, disabled graduate students often lack academic or national-level funding. Many graduate students in Israel, especially in the social sciences, receive no scholarships. Although some prestigious PhD scholarships for living expenses do exist, they are extremely competitive and granted to only a handful of exceptional students. The Israeli Council for Higher Education, along with philanthropic organizations and foundations, offer scholarships that support master's and PhD students from diverse marginalized groups in Israel – Palestinians, women, Ultra-Orthodox Jews, and more, but not disabled students (The Israeli Council for Higher Education, 2021; Studying in Israel, 2021). Thus, disabled students who seek academic careers in Israel face years of financial instability due to the need to work part-time jobs for negligible wages or to work as academic research assistants or teaching assistants, jobs known not to pay good wages, to complete their academic degrees. Such students may also face other potential local employment barriers (Mor, 2012).
These local aspects intersect with global barriers due to the global dominance of academic neoliberal values (Waterfield et al., 2018). Given the various aspects of the dominant neoliberal-ableist academic culture and the specific cultural climate of the Israeli academy, we ask this: How do global and national oppressive mechanisms affect the marginality, liminality, and weakness of disabled doctoral students who are not native English speakers and are distanced geographically and culturally from the global academic center?
Methodology and context
The current research is conducted as a collaborative autoethnography, a qualitative method used by disabled scholars who study their academic experiences in cultural, social, and inter-personal contexts that provide a unique voice and representation (Lourens, 2020; Simplican, 2017). This voice is specifically important for the understudied context of disabled graduate students, who are often silenced in academic and public spheres (Chang et al., 2012). Autoethnography and collaborative autoethnography have been used for critical study of disability in Israel (e.g., Broyer, 2012; 2017; Eichengreen et al., 2016). However, collaborative autoethnography has not yet been used in the current context, despite the importance of graduate students' experiences in Israeli academia for understanding the barriers that prevent actual academic diversity.
This research process comprised three stages. First, data collection by free, personal, and reflective writing of our individual experiences in multiple academic situations as Israeli graduate students and then a review of each other's text in great detail to form a preliminary meaning making (see also Chang et al., 2012). Second, a collaborative process of reviewing the data and analyzing and interpreting it (Hernandez et al., 2017) through continuous spoken and written interactions took place. This stage included focusing on common aspects in the data; recognizing our experiences of marginality, liminality, and neoliberal ableism at the academy, and expanding them into larger themes. This process reached its conclusion at the final stage, namely the theoretical development of the primary themes of our unique experiences as Israeli, disabled, non-native English-speaking graduate students who are both distant geographically and culturally from the global academic center and from DS traditions. These themes include the following: learning to perform new academic roles as disabled graduate students in the contexts of teaching, conference attendance, and research and experiencing double marginalization as disabled DS scholars – in our disciplines and in the developing community of DS in Israel. Each of these themes will be described in the next section.
The context of the current paper is diverse. The first author is a doctoral student at a top Israeli university who studies social media and disability. She is a HoH woman who neither signs nor has a Deaf identity, but rather uses auditory assistive technology and is a native Hebrew speaker. This position enables her to question the lack of disability in core axioms in communication and media studies regarding the "average", taken-for-granted, able-bodied media user. Her main accommodation has been the use of listening devices, and she has had to constantly remind others in the room to use it – in classes, lectures, and conferences in Israel. Conferences in English, however, as well as virtual events in both languages, necessitate the use of real-time captions.
The second author is a doctoral student at another top Israeli university. She is a lifelong electric wheelchair user due to a neuromuscular disorder. She began her academic journey as a sociologist, but as her research interest changed after completing her master's thesis, she moved to her current university and to a new discipline and started a PhD program in geography and urban planning. Her visible disability is an important declarative aspect of studying accessibility not only from its material-physical level but also from its social and political aspects in urban life. Her disability demands wheelchair accessibility accommodations in classrooms, especially to classroom stages when teaching or presenting in different contexts, along with personal care when traveling for multiple days.
Despite our diverse personal characteristics, we both share deep knowledge of the Israeli academic system and its relationship to disability. We have worked for several years in our respective universities' support centers and accessibility units. Moreover, we are both experienced as teaching assistants and instructors. During our master's and PhD studies, we both have been and remain the only disabled scholars at our departments studying disability, supervised by able-bodied professors without any lived or theoretical knowledge of disability. This context is directly and indirectly mirrored in the following section.
Learning to Perform New Academic Roles
Mariela: My first big challenge I faced as a graduate student was when I first became an instructor for two undergraduate classes. My exciting and somewhat daunting new responsibilities as a teacher intersected with my realization of my new liminal position in the academy, both as disabled and as a graduate student (Carter et al., 2017; Deegan & Hill, 1991), which mainly manifested when dealing with my accommodations. One of the classrooms I was assigned to teach in had a lecturer's computer screen angled upward. It was designed assuming that the lecturer would be standing, given the classrooms' design being crafted without disabled teachers in mind (Saltes, 2020). From my wheelchair, I could not see anything on the screen, so I could not teach in that room.
As I used to do each time I needed a classroom accommodation as an undergraduate student, I turned to the university's support center. However, I had to deal with the complete lack of explicit policy and practices for adapting teaching forms for disabled academics (Saltes, 2020, 2020b) since the support center's delegates told me that they do not interfere with teaching arrangements and that I would have to "figure this out with my department." Consequently, I talked to my department's secretary and explained to her that I needed to teach in a different classroom. Shockingly, she simply could not understand the problem, perhaps because I was the first wheelchair user who had ever taught in the department. I felt helpless seeing how my word as a disabled graduate student, and as the only person with lived experience of disability, was not enough. I had to insist that a couple of able-bodied staff members physically accompany me to the room and sit down so I could demonstrate that they would not be able to see the screen if they sat down.
Only after this little performance was the class moved to another classroom. Then I realized that asking for accessibility accommodations would be different for me from this point on. My requests would be new and unique to my department, and they would be more difficult to resolve. Having to ask for accommodations from my department staff, the people who are also in charge of my education and who are my superiors, turned this into something even more challenging. My position was complicated, and, furthermore, I felt more vulnerable as a graduate student (Deegan & Hill, 1991; Titchkosky, 2011). Thus, my requests take on something of an apologetic tone now, as every accommodation request feels like a huge favor the faculty has deigned to grant.
Nomy: Indeed, "disabled" teaching can prove to be challenging. When I was offered to serve as an undergraduate course instructor for one semester at another academic institution, I thought that it would be a good opportunity to learn how to teach, to meet and get to know new colleagues, and perhaps to continuing on with this job the following year as well. At the beginning of my first class, I explained to the students that I am a HoH woman and that I need them to use, during their participation in the class, an FM microphone that enables me to hear them. At the end of the class, when the students left, I realized that my FM microphone's switch, which was used by the students during the class, was broken. I knew for sure that it was undamaged when the class began, so the only option was that one of the students had broken it. I couldn't believe that this had actually occurred and did not know what to do next. I asked an experienced HoH lecturer about it, but she said that this has never happened to her. I was terrified.
Eventually, I decided to keep teaching these students, and every class during the semester left me feeling stressed, scared, and careful. I had to keep using the fixed microphone again and felt so grateful for completing each class peacefully, without incident. My marginality as a disabled instructor meant that the staff in this department failed to understand how violent this event was for me. In addition, many able-bodied undergraduates fail to see their disabled teachers as authority figures (Saltes, 2020). This shocking violence proved to me that I was nothing but a disabled woman, one who was too marginalized to have any academic legitimacy. I left the class – and this institution – when the semester was over. No one has ever admitted to breaking my microphone. The worst part was the feeling I encountered from the few able-bodied academics I told about this incident – that it was a big mistake to even think that I could teach able-bodied students. In retrospect, I think that this experience – and especially these reactions to my sensory teaching performance as an HoH person, which was clearly not "good enough" (Saltes, 2020), was so traumatizing that I wondered whether I could ever be an academic. The fact that no one knew how to deal with this demonstrates how defenseless I was not only as an instructor (Deegan & Hill, 1991) but also as a disabled one (Titchkosky, 2011).
Nomy: The extreme importance to our CVs and future career opportunities, and the accompanying prestige attributed to our attending conferences, means that we must confront "the additional labor" of obtaining accommodations. Despite the Israeli legal obligation to provide them to academic conference attendees (Almog, 2018; 2018b), most of these conferences are organized without disabled attendees – or presenters – in mind. At times the unfairness of conferences' inaccessibility is overwhelming. My master's degree thesis was awarded as one of the top student papers at an Israeli conference. I was supposed to get the award before the keynote speech was delivered – in English – and, as I was informed only a few days earlier, it would not include any real-time captions. After receiving my award, I sat there, in front of the lecturer, who spoke incredibly quickly, the envelope with the check still warm in my hand, and stared at him for a few exhausting minutes, trying without success to stay focused and lipread. Then I gave up and waited for his speech to end.
The people who gave me the award apparently expected me to sit there with the check, be grateful, and behave nicely, which I did. I could not risk theatrically leaving the room in protest, in front of hundreds of people whom I may meet and need to cooperate with in the future. This absurd situation represents the mixed hierarchical and ableist power relations at the academy – even while having proved my excellence according to neoliberal ableism (Carter et al., 2017; Goodley, 2014; Merchant et al., 2019).
Mariela: In my case, the greatest barrier is physically getting to the conference, especially if it is located abroad. When I began my PhD studies, a paper of mine was accepted to an American conference. At first, I was very excited to participate in an international conference for the first time. But then my excitement turned into worry. The only way I could get to the conference was with my personal caregiver, and that meant double travel expenses such as booking two roundtrip tickets to the United States, securing two tourist visas and a double accessible hotel room, incurring double the food expenses during our stay, and so on, amounting to thousands of dollars in expenses. When I asked the conference organizers for financial help due to my needs, they explained that the conference itself would be fully accessible, but they could not offer any additional funding. It was frustrating to realize that accommodations do not include any consideration for the funding of care needs (Carter et al., 2017; Hannam-Swain, 2018).
I told my supervisor and other faculty staff who were in charge of the department's travel budget about my need for a personal caregiver when traveling abroad. They did not know about this need, but I reluctantly had to reveal it to receive any funding. The much-appreciated amount they gave me covered less than half the amount I needed for the travel. I could not secure additional funding sources because no organizations offer financial support to disabled graduate students in Israel. I considered giving up on the conference. Luckily, colleagues convinced me to travel there anyway. In retrospect, this was the right decision, as the conference offered excellent networking opportunities. But I became aware of the double costs, at my expense, of every conference abroad, every summer school program, and every other academic opportunity that would promote my career (Price, 2011). This situation makes me think twice every time I submit an abstract to a conference. Sometimes I desist from submitting papers or applying to participate in various academic opportunities because they are simply too expensive to manage. My double marginalization as graduate student, who does not have a travel budget of her own, and my disability, which demands "additional" funding, both make the distance from Israel to the United Kingdom or the United States extremely difficult to handle.
Nomy: My first international conference was bittersweet. My presentation fell on the last day of the conference, a few hours before my flight home, and I had trouble sleeping every night through the duration of the conference due to my paralyzing fear of presenting in English. This is my second spoken language, which I have struggled with since I was a child (Domagala-Zysk & Epstein, 2018). Two months before the conference, I began going to a Canadian speech therapist to work on my pronunciation. But I still felt my audience would negatively compare my speech to "normal" rather than listen to the content, which criticized ableist norms of communication. The way I speak made me feel even more distant from the ideal academic researcher and increased my impostor syndrome (Marchut et al., 2021).
However, the conference accessibility itself was both good and bad. The conference organizers provided a remarkable English transcription service given by a professional and experienced transcriber. Yet I could not miss the general design of the conference non-acoustic halls and spaces, knowing that only hearing attendees had been considered by the organizers. As someone who is neither hearing nor a full professional-level English speaker, I found it impossible to engage in any academic networking, which is crucial for creating necessary academic opportunities (Price, 2011). Indeed, conferences' noisy and crowded receptions are extremely hard to handle compared with smaller personal meetings. Yet also attempting to impress an important scholar, most likely a hearing, native-level English speaker, presents both psychological and auditory burdens. These intimidating situations include the stress of attempting to listen, lipread, and understand everything, replying with relevant content to the context without any embarrassing grammar mistakes, and appearing casual and hiding the extreme effort and concentration these encounters entail while doing so. It shows how complex it becomes to promote your career not only as a D/deaf doctoral student (Marchut et al., 2021; Smith & Andrews, 2015) but also as an Israeli doctoral student who is a native Hebrew speaker and an HoH person.
Nomy: Many consider conducting research and writing it up the most important tasks doctoral students undertake (Deegan & Hill, 1991). My master's thesis research raised, for the first time, my need for considerable additional funding to pay for a professional transcriber of my interviews. Though other graduate students could transcribe their interviews by themselves, I, as an HoH person, could not. Yet when I asked a senior professor in a research government department about any potential additional funding resource, her only reply was "your request is touching." That was her first and last response. Knowing that I will always need to secure "additional" funding for my research to be carried out in an accessible manner harmed my motivation, self-esteem, and ability to invest all my efforts in conducting research.
An additional challenge is writing in English. The neoliberal-ableist academic culture (Goodley, 2014) is dominant in Israel as well, as research often seems less important than its publication. I work in a competitive environment that continually emphasizes the importance of productivity and excellence via the publication of papers in highly ranked journals that lead global communication research – in English (Demeter, 2019; Jenkins, 2014). As an HoH academic who is not a native English speaker, I invest an enormous amount of effort in improving my writing skills (e.g., Marchut et al., 2021), which is not recognized, as I am constantly reminded by hearing faculty that my English is not good enough. Knowing that it could not ever be as good as that of hearing Americans – demonstrates my triple marginalization by my disability, my mother tongue, and neoliberal ableist norms. Years ago, this marginalization made me feel that I had to overcompensate in my academic environment for my disability and had to prove that I am skilled enough to be an academic researcher (Saltes, 2020). Thus, while many others wrote theirs in Hebrew, I wrote my master's thesis in English.
Mariela: My biggest challenge in conducting research, however, is time. Like other disabled academics, I have additional time-consuming activities in my schedule due to my disability, such as weekly physiotherapy, along with the "additional labor" of securing accommodations (Campbell, 2020; Finesilver et al., 2020; Hannam-Swain, 2018). I also have to listen to my body and to its needs, which may struggle from working too many hours a day or have to take some time off to recharge.
As I try to handle my almost full-time day job and my academic activities, my research, which is the most crucial part of my PhD (Deegan & Hill, 1991), is always put aside. It took me more time to finish my bachelor's and master's degrees and to have my PhD research proposal approved, and it takes me longer to promote my research and to write and publish academic papers (including this one). This situation is extremely frustrating.
Even though I have a very visible disability, to explain crip-time needs, I must disclose some of the secondary, "hidden" aspects of my condition, risking being perceived by my peers and supervisors as "too disabled" (Hannam-Swain, 2018). In addition, it is difficult to ask for deadline extensions due to their incompatibility with neoliberal ableist norms and the feeling that I should just make do with the accommodations I already receive (Carter et al., 2017). Instead, I just push as hard as I can and try to overcome my disappointment when I miss another research opportunity or the shame and distress when I update my supervisor that I have not yet begun the chapter we talked about weeks earlier. In addition, crip-time has financial costs for me as well, such as when a medical condition prevented me from submitting my PhD research proposal by the due date, which made my university suspend my already low monthly scholarship.
Academic marginality as disabled DS scholars
External marginality within our discipline
Mariela: Studying disability in Israel can be a struggle. We have to learn DS by ourselves given the significant lack of DS classes or programs in Israel (Almog, 2018; Ziv et al., 2016), which indirectly leads to the mere handful of senior Israeli scholars who even know that studying disability in a critical manner is possible. It was a challenge when I started looking for a PhD supervisor. When searching for supervisors in urban planning programs, I wrote to professors known for their social and critical approach. Many of them answered that they do not "deal" with accessibility because they do not understand why it is a critical issue rather than a technical one. I was incredibly disappointed to realize that departments that offer critical courses on gender, inequality, environment, and other social justice issues completely ignore disability. After several frustrating months had passed, I finally met my current supervisor in urban planning. She had no experience with disability, but she did understand it is an important issue to study within the context of urban planning.
Even though I discovered the recently developed literature on the sub-discipline of geography of disability (Chouinard et al., 2010), it is still largely being ignored or is for the most part unknown by most scholars. During my PhD studies, I couldn't hide my indignation every time disability was not part of the syllabus or when I read another article on the exclusionary practices of modern urban planning concerning various social groups that did not mention disability. As many disabled graduate students who study disability in critical fields (Carter et al., 2017), I just have to constantly "teach" my supervisor, my department, and even my field about disability's importance for urban planning research. This position is an extremely difficult one for me, especially as someone who is also a student. I feel it is inappropriate for me to teach and argue with senior scholars given the academy's resilient hierarchy (Merchant et al., 2019) and my liminal and vulnerable position in it (Deegan & Hill, 1991; Titchkosky, 2011). But I often have to do so, otherwise disability, and my research expertise, will continue to go unnoticed and be disregarded.
Nomy: Indeed, as a communication scholar who uses disabled media users' experiences to expand and challenge media theories, it always shocks me how other scholars fail to see the ableist foundations of communication theories that ignore disability. I face challenges in making able-bodied people understand the very basic elements of everyday social and cultural experiences of disabled media users and how such elements often reflect ableist notions. I had to explain to a senior faculty member in my field why ignoring disabled experiences makes an apparently well-established media use theory imperfect. The theoretical discussions in this field are extremely critical regarding every marginalized group, whereas disability is nearly completely ignored (Carter et al., 2017; Titchkosky, 2011). Indeed, the recent decade has brought increased critical writing on disability and communication in English-speaking contexts, known as disability media studies (e.g., Ellcessor et al., 2017). However, the Israeli context of communication still fails to view disability as an object of critical analysis. This often makes senior scholars at the department – along with conference submission reviewers and journal reviewers – question and minimize my perspective, arguments, and theoretical contributions.
These remarks highlight how enormous the gap is between me, as both a communication scholar and a communicatively disabled person, and able-bodied communication scholars, who often ignore and reject any connection to the disabled experience of communication. This situation can sometimes be manifested by micro-aggressions against me and by the lack of support I receive as a disabled doctoral student (Johnston & Sanscartier, 2019).
Internal marginality within the Israeli DS community
Nomy: In my department, there is no staff member with any (known) disability, let alone anyone who is HoH or Deaf. Unfortunately, I know only a handful of HoH or deaf Israeli academics who have earned PhD degrees and study disability, but they are working in different fields and often have different accessibility needs than I do. The lack of an academic role model affected me in very practical ways, when it was too early to even consider future career paths (Campbell, 2009). I had to learn how to perform my new academic roles – as a researcher who critically studies disability and as a teaching assistant and lecturer. While I often figured out by myself how to do things "correctly," according to able-bodied norms, I always wished that there was someone I could ask what to do and how to bring my disability to these roles.
Apart from lacking a role model, I was so surprised to discover that it was much harder to find my voice within the Israeli DS community. As a disabled academic, I often find myself overwhelmed by the dominant ableist practices and words of this community. This recently developed community (Almog & Gerber, 2016; Ziv et al., 2016) indeed suffers from the able-bodied dominance of professionals and scholars who preserve conservative notions of disability (Holler, 2018). A few months ago, I attended a multidisciplinary meeting of graduate students who presented their DS research. One of them, an able-bodied woman considered an expert in the local community, described her cognitively disabled interviewees by their real names along with their relationships with their families. Her disrespectful descriptions of these interviewees as unable to understand what happens around them shocked me. I felt like she could not see them as humans who deserve the well-established ethical respect able-bodied interviewees receive. I was so disgusted by this, that I was unable to attend any other meeting of this group. Obviously, most of the Israeli academics in the DS community would not express themselves like this. Yet no one else in the meeting, apart from me and another disabled attendee, criticized her descriptions. This criticism was canceled by this woman. It made me feel that the Israeli DS community often reproduces problematic power relations which present disabled people as "patients" rather than the only experts in the lived experience of disability (Shakespear, 1996; Charlton, 1998). This silencing of an authentic, "radical" criticism (Carter et al., 2017; Sang, 2017) made me quite pessimistic about the ability of the Israeli DS community to create an actual inclusive discourse.
Mariela: Your arguments about the lack of a disabled role model truly resonate with me. I know only one scholar with a physical disability, who, even though she only has a few years of additional experience over me, makes her the closest thing I have to an academic role model. Yet I wish there were Israeli disabled (maybe even female) DS professors whose classes I could take and whose lived experienced advice (Campbell, 2009) I could learn from. This lack of guidance makes me feel vulnerable particularly in situations in which my disability is singled out and can definitely be silencing, especially for us, as we are still in this liminal process of earning our degrees (Deegan & Hill, 1991).
One of these situations occurred when I had just started working toward my master's degree and my then-supervisor was able to get me into a new DS study group. At every meeting, I was surrounded by highly ranked academics from different fields who discussed their work on disability, which was both exciting and intimidating as a young researcher. At many of those meetings, I was the only disabled person. I was used to that in other academic situations, but this one was more difficult due to its focus on disability. I did not know what my role should be during these meetings. For instance, should I express disagreement loudly when necessary, making sure that my voice, as the only "disabled voice" in the room, was heard? Should I risk being perceived as "too radical" compared with the other nondisabled participants, as disabled graduate students often are (Carter et al., 2017; Sang, 2017)? Or, in contrast, should I adhere to the academic hierarchy and let those senior, experienced scholars lead the discussion? I remember that, while feeling extremely alone in that situation, I mostly kept quiet.
The themes presented in this section demonstrated our experiences as Israeli disabled graduate students who learn to teach, to attend academic conferences, and to conduct research according to a neoliberal academic culture and English-speaking academic hegemony. These aspects affected our experiences as disability scholars within our discipline along with our experiences of lacking role models and silencing our disabled voices within the Israeli DS community. However, it is important to consider not only the experiences shared in this section but also the myriad experiences that could not be included here due to our professional, political, and financial considerations as PhD students. Our descriptions are only the tip of the iceberg, which means that this paper is also a victim of the academic silencing of disabled graduate students.
Discussion and conclusions
This paper sheds light on the underrepresented and understudied position of disabled graduate students who are not native English speakers nor live in English-speaking states. The geographic, lingual, and cultural distance from the global hegemony on the production of academic knowledge, especially in the field of DS, is manifested here by two themes. These themes demonstrate how our position as Israeli disabled graduate students mirrors the intersection of the global neoliberal ableist academy and the Israeli conservative and ableist culture. The intersection of these two oppressive mechanisms serves to exacerbate our academic vulnerability, marginality, and liminality.
The first theme presents the process of learning to perform our new academic roles as graduate students as we come to understand the extent of accommodations needed for successfully carrying out these roles. Thus, we learn to deal with nuanced ways of marginalization that are manifested by our teaching barriers: classrooms that are designed for able-bodied lecturers and violent traumas when it comes to performing "disabled" teaching in front of able-bodied undergraduates. As conference presenters, we had to deal with lack of funding for personal care needs and the multiple communicative, practical, and emotional barriers given the English-language academic dominance. As researchers, we handle the implications of crip-time to our perceived academic efficiency, learn how to conduct research as disabled scholars who study disability, and learn how to write and publish according to competitive neoliberal ableist norms.
The second theme presents our double marginalization as disabled scholars who study disability. The first context of this marginalization is our external international and mostly national academic disciplines, namely geography and urban planning along with communication and new media. Though extant English-language literature on these fields increasingly examines disability from a critical perspective, the Israeli field continues to fail to do so. This makes urban and communicative theorizations, as well as senior scholars in these fields, ignore not only the disabled experience but also disabled scholars. The second context of our marginalization is our internal, national context of the Israeli DS community. This still-developing community lacks a progressive cultural base and is thus primarily dominated by able-bodied scholars who may see disabled people as merely research subjects rather than as equal colleagues. The underrepresentation of disabled scholars in this community not only silences our criticism but also prevents us from being guided by disabled role models.
On the basis of these themes, we identify four distinct environments that represent the intersection of global neoliberal ableist academic norms (Goodley, 2014; Goodley & Lawtome, 2019) and the specific aspects of Israeli cultural ableism. These environments constantly influence each other in different direct and indirect ways, which exacerbate our marginality, weakness, and liminality compared with what disabled graduate students from the global academic hegemony experience.
The first environment is the one that seems closest to us: The Israeli DS community, which has developed without having the strong activist, cultural, and historical roots of American and British disability activism (Almog & Gerber, 2016). Despite the gradual change of the discourse and its slow development, the underrepresentation of disabled scholars in the community shows the complexity – and perhaps inability – of shifting from seeing disabled people as objects of charity to seeing them as academic experts. Indeed, disabled graduate students' "radical" criticism may be silenced in other countries as well (Carter et al., 2017; Sang et al., 2017). Yet this Israeli context deepens this silencing due to the lack of role models who show that having a career as a disabled scholar – whose criticism is heard (Campbell, 2009) – is in fact possible. Our inability to find a voice in what is expected to be our most supportive, inclusive, and progressive environment echoes our marginality in other academic environments as well.
The second, more distant environment is our discipline. As critical disability scholars, we are marginal within critical fields that understudy disability (Carter et al., 2017; Titchkosky, 2011). Yet there has been an international increase in the study of disability as a critical component of urban (Chouinard et al., 2010) and communicative theories (Ellcessor et al., 2017), which leads to a growing recognition of our expertise on international stages. However, the Israeli ignorance of disability exacerbates our marginal and liminal position as young scholars, as the senior scholars we meet every day question the relevance of our research – and our voice as experts – to the field.
As we're silenced in the two environments described above, it becomes more difficult to make our voices heard in the third, more distant environment of the recently "inclusive" Israeli academy (Almog, 2018; 2018b). Israeli disabled graduate students are forced to navigate in the academy without sufficient, if any, financial support (Almog, 2018b; The Council of High Education, 2021). As researchers, we have to deal with lack of funding for accessibly conducting of our research, especially as we have to write and publish it in English. HoH graduate students, who are struggling with this second spoken language (Domagala-Zysk & Epstein, 2018), are reminded that their English does not meet academic standards. Moreover, crip time has considerable implications not only for the length of academic research but also for other academics' perceptions of disabled scholars who conduct research as being inefficient "costers" (Campbell, 2020; Finesilver et al., 2020; Hannam-Swain, 2018). In Israeli contexts, this situation of disabled scholars might lead to a suspension of necessary income due to an inability to meet able-bodied time frames. In addition, as we learn how to teach as disabled people, we might face unacknowledged violence due to the Israeli cultural climate (Gershuni, 2018; Ziv et al., 2016). Moreover, the belated Israeli policy regarding disabled students (Almog, 2018; 2018b) fosters the taken-for-granted inaccessibility of Israeli academic conferences, even in cases of proven excellence according to neoliberal ableism.
Finally, our specific barriers intensify when it comes to the fourth and the most distant environment: The English-speaking academy. Our specific liminality intensifies not only compared with what able-bodied graduate students experience (Deegan & Hill, 1991; Salmona et al., 2016), but also mostly compared with the "double" liminality of disabled graduate students who live in English-speaking states (Carter et al., 2017; Pearson & Boscovich, 2019; Saltes, 2020). It leaves us, as disabled graduate students who are geographically, culturally, and lingually distant from the English-speaking academic hegemony, in an even more vulnerable position. This position is specifically manifested by following the "informal" obligation of attending international conferences (Price, 2011; Williams & Mavin, 2015). The dominance of English (Jenkins, 2014) in auditorily inaccessible environments poses a considerable barrier not only to signing Deaf (Marchut et al., 2021), but also to HoH academics who are not native English speakers. These marginalities become financial hardships when it comes to the travel costs of international conferences with a personal caregiver. The great distance from conference locations puts a burden of thousands of dollars onto doctoral students who aim to promote their careers and blocks important opportunities for their future careers.
This paper expands the current literature in two contexts. Our first contribution is to the literature on disabled graduate students who suffer from extreme academic weakness and marginality that lead to their being understudied, usually because of their fear of sharing their experiences. Yet despite their greater challenges compared with their able-bodied peers, they are more privileged than are their counterparts in other regions and cultures of the world, thanks to the English-speaking academic hegemony. Our second contribution is to Israeli critical DS literature. Its slow progress illustrates the complexity of reproducing critical notions of disability from English-speaking contexts to far different cultural contexts. This complexity should be considered part of a global discussion of DS due to the importance of academic education and training for future disability scholars. The possibility of educating critical DS scholars is hard to envision – or even impossible – without DS academic departments – and the disabled scholars who will populate them. To promote this vision, appropriate support must be developed and provided to disabled graduate students everywhere.
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We would like to thank Dr. Nili Broyer, Dr. Stephanie L. Kerschbaum and Dr. Doron Dorfman for their important feedback and suggestions that helped improve this article.
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This term refers to 'English-speaking academic hegemony,' which reflects the dominance of English as the academic lingua franca and the hegemonic power of knowledge production in the English-speaking academic contexts, especially in the United States and England, which are relatively far from Israel both culturally and geographically.
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We used the term "Disabled people," rather than "people with disabilities," in this article to demonstrate the political disability identity that is at stake due to the collective oppression of disabled people.
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