by Lennard J. Davis
It has been more than 20 years since the Americans With Disabilities Act took effect, but while the law has changed some things in higher education, it hasn’t changed the way academic culture regards people with disabilities. While our current interest in diversity is laudable, colleges rarely think of disability when they tout diversity. College brochures and Web sites depict people of various races and ethnicities, but how often do they include, say, blind people or those with Parkinson’s disease? Or a deaf couple talking to each other in a library, or a group of wheelchair users gathered in the quad? When disability does appear, it is generally cloistered on the pages devoted to accommodations and services.
It’s not that disability is simply excluded from visual and narrative representations of diversity in college materials; it is rarely even integrated into courses devoted to diversity. Anthologies in all fields now include theoretical perspectives devoted to race, gender, and sometimes social class, but disability is almost never included. Indeed, in my field, literary theory and cultural studies, The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism had only one essay on disability in its thousands of pages, and that was removed in the second edition. (Full disclosure: I wrote the essay.)