Book Review

in Learning and Teaching
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Mary Hums Professor, Sport Administration, University of Louisville, USA

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Nicole Brown (2021) Lived Experiences of Ableism in Academia: Strategies for Inclusion in Higher Education Bristol: Policy Press, 352 pp., ISBN: 978-1447354116

Nicole Brown (2021) Lived Experiences of Ableism in Academia: Strategies for Inclusion in Higher Education Bristol: Policy Press, 352 pp., ISBN: 978-1447354116

First of all, thank you to the editors and authors who worked to put this book together. As a faculty member with a physical disability resulting from a chronic condition, ours is a voice that is truly silent and oftentimes misunderstood in academia. Frequently when attending conferences, I am ‘the only one’ and have had to deal with inconveniently laid out presentation rooms, inaccessible conference travel issues, conference contracts which did not include handicap accessible rooms in the conference discounted rates, and well…the list could go on and on. On the other hand, my presence has served to enlighten others, which will pave the way down the road for better experiences for future scholars. So, as someone who lives this life, I thank you.

Overall, the book covers a wide range of topics. I will choose a few topics to focus on given I only have so many words for my review. A strength of this book is the fact that it covers a wide breadth of disabilities. People with disabilities are not a monolithic group, after all. Whether in academia or elsewhere, people with visible physical disabilities are typically the most efficiently dealt with. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides information on making workplaces more accessible through means such as elevators, ramps, doorway widths and parking at office buildings. Meeting ADA requirements typically fulfils the basic minimums for accessibility. But there once again, people with physical disabilities are not all the same either. I was glad to see a chapter on chronic illness, for example, and particularly thought that chapter author did a good job of bringing in the intersectionalities of age and gender. As we all know, being a woman in academia can be challenging. Being a person with a disability in academia can be challenging as well. A woman with a disability entering the academic arena faces twice the challenges. This is the voice of experience speaking as someone who lives in both of those communities. To come back around to the book, this chapter makes the point about how important it is to honour those intersectionalities.

The chapter on making disability visible when teaching was a nice contribution. Able-bodied people do not even have to think about the adjustments necessary in a classroom space. Computer stand too tall? Aisles between desks too narrow? Room temperature too hot or too cold? All aggravations that just become part of the classroom environment during the course of the semester. But we only need simple modifications! This particular quote stuck with me: ‘discourses of academic elitism result in the belief that those same reasonable adjustments are a form of special treatment and that any truly capable person should be able to meet the normative standards without adjustment’ (p. 190). Why is it that when people just want to be treated equitably, they are perceived as asking for something special – good point here, author!

A number of chapters in the book go where people often feel the need to tread lightly – that is, invisible disabilities, such as autism, life after traumatic injury and depression. In this world of academia, depression runs rampant but all too often silent, impacting quality of life both personally and professionally. The chapter focused on depression described promoting the idea of building community and provided a great example of recognising and then taking action to work with mental health issues among academics. Depression can gradually erode a person's life to the point of self-harm, especially when people feel isolated. Think about our work environment – scholarly endeavours are often efforts that take place in a solitary manner which can potentially exacerbate feelings of isolation. Plus, many academics constantly live with ‘imposter syndrome’ which only exacerbates the situation. A chapter like this one provides a workable foundation for taking action to help people address the challenges they, and their colleagues, face.

Another strength of the book is that the chapters provide information across different disciplines. Not all disciplines can be represented, of course, but music and nursing can provide lessons for people in majors across a university. The authors allow the reader to take the examples from sample majors and then reflect on how those experiences can be adapted for their majors.

This book can serve a number of audiences in different ways. First, faculty members with disabilities will finally be able to see themselves and their lived experiences represented and recognised. With the current emphasis in higher education on diversity, equity and inclusion, this will be welcomed. Second, the book should be required reading for administrators who supervise faculty or who are in charge of making their campuses more accessible to all. So often people in management positions think making accommodations for people with disabilities will be difficult and expensive. Neither of those are true. Research shows that over half of accommodations cost nothing and those that do incur a typical cost of approximately $500 or less (Job Accommodation Network 2021). Third, students with disabilities who may wish to pursue a PhD in order to become a faculty member could get a realistic look at what might lie ahead. This is not meant to discourage them but rather to make sure they are entering the profession with eyes wide open. It is also meant to let them know they can take up the academic life if they so choose.

Again, thanks to the authors and editors for putting together this work. It certainly does fill a gap and gives a voice to an often-overlooked group of valuable academics who add another level of diversity to whatever university they work at in their careers.

Mary Hums

Professor, Sport Administration, University of Louisville

References

Job Accommodation Network (2021), ‘Benefits and costs of accommodation’, https://askjan.org/topics/costs.cfm.

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