Toward Disability Justice, Access, and Solidarity

This page was developed by the 2023 ASHE Conference Accessibility Committee to share the Accessibility (Un)Statement, which was co-created by scholars on the 2020-2022 CEP Accessibility and Equity/Inclusion Sub-Committee. The captioned video below introduces the purpose of the statement, which is to shift how the Association, members, and conference attendees orient to access at ASHE.

Access (Un)Statement

We desire the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) to be(come) a space that prioritizes and cultivates a culture of interdependence, access, and collaboration rather than a strict reliance on individual processes of disclosure and accommodation. We believe that by emphasizing disability justice, we can shift our collective perspectives toward disability and access. Disability justice pushes us towards antiracist and decolonial work that addresses ableism as a form of oppression that:

“assign[s] value to people's bodies and minds based on societally constructed ideas of normalcy, productivity, desirability, intelligence, excellence, and fitness. These constructed ideas are deeply rooted in eugenics, anti-Blackness, misogyny, colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism.”

Embracing disability justice shifts the culture of a space, creating dynamic and empowering ways of living in community. It recognizes disability as fluid and natural, moving us towards practices of mutual responsibility, acceptance, and purposeful inclusion.

We have observed the demand for accessibility checklists and the overreliance on individual accommodation processes as strategies for creating accessible conference spaces. We believe the insistence on these two approaches reveals several dynamics that are rooted in white supremacist culture, namely: understanding disability as an individual problem, prioritizing the individual over the community, and insisting on perfection. When we rely on these approaches, it is easy to see how colonial desires to erase differences and isolate disabled people shape our ways of being together. Complacency around these approaches is incompatible with the goals of ASHE to be an inclusive organization.

Disability in the academy was historically seen as a problem to be eradicated by nondisabled people. Current accommodation processes echo that history: they are transactional, rooted in compliance, and designed to place retrofits without making nondisabled folks uncomfortable, or asking them to do too much. As a community of scholars working to eliminate systems of oppression in the academy, we look to disability culture and justice to challenge these norms. Embracing these principles in ASHE would involve embracing flexibility, creativity, messiness, interdependence, and imagination in conference design. We do not believe it is possible to design a perfectly accessible conference space as access needs, like disability, are dynamic and fluid. We do believe it is possible to transform the way we approach access labor at ASHE, shifting away from a framework that reduces disabled scholars “down to the expense of their accommodations.” We have experienced the way disabled people do access differently: in ways that are creative, flowy, skillful, hack-y, radical, messy, and grounded in love and solidarity. Building our collective access knowledge can empower us to imagine and create ways of being together at ASHE that do not assume or rely on the non-participation and exclusion of disabled colleagues and scholars.

We are reminded that our work to address ableism is not just about the logistics of access. As Mia Mingus writes, “we want to question a culture that makes inaccessibility even possible. Just because disabled people are in the room doesn’t mean there is no ableism or that people won’t pretend we’re invisible.” Thus, beyond changing access practices, critical theorizing around disability invites us to unpack our feelings around and relationships to disability as a community. We recognize that disability is often associated with whiteness and that white disabled people are often centered in disability research, history, and media (#DisabilityTooWhite). At the same time, we know a hesitancy to embrace disability identity and theory stalls our ability to engage in “generative theoretical projects that ultimately serve the goal of our collective liberation” (via Moya Bailey). By embracing disability justice and addressing ableism in our work, we sharpen our analysis of issues of race, ethnicity, and racism in higher education and create space to “reflect on how we uphold notions of normalcy that ultimately (re)produce the very systems we seek to tear down” (via Subini Annamma).

We invite and encourage you to engage in ongoing, deep reflection around how we can shift ASHE’s culture towards one of interdependence and collective accountability. As such, rather than provide a traditional access statement with a process for individual accommodation and accompanying guidelines, we shift and pose a set of reflection questions that can be explored individually, collectively, and ideally continuously. We imagine these as guiding questions that move us towards a community where disabled scholars of color can be fully present and participate in the process of knowledge-building with an inclusive community of peers and mentors.

Continuous Reflection Questions

  1. Why do you participate in ASHE? What are your access needs as a scholar, researcher, mentor, and/or student? How does ASHE meet your access needs? If you could imagine a completely accessible community, what would it look like?

  2. How are you building community at ASHE? Who do you see as being in the ASHE community? Do you see disabled scholars?

  3. What does accessibility mean to you? How have you learned about creating access? What relationships have shaped your knowledge around access?

  4. What do you know about individual accommodation processes? Do you assume they work? Do they work (differently) for scholars of color? Are they humanizing? Who has power in these processes?

  5. How do you think about accessibility when you are giving presentations? Facilitating or moderating discussion? Participating as an audience member?

  6. What accommodations have you been asked to make in the past? Have they become a part of your practice? Why or why not?

  7. What do you see as possible and not possible around access at ASHE (or in other academic settings)? What has shaped that understanding?

  8. What are your fears, questions, excitements, and concerns around access work? How do you seek out resources to address these concerns? What types of labor do you ask of disabled people around you?

  9. How is (dis)ability represented in your scholarly work? How is ableism incorporated into your framing of systemic oppression? How does your work unpack or reinforce ideas of normalcy, intelligence, and excellence?

  10. When you think of disability, who do you think of? What are your associations between disability and whiteness? How do you consider the experiences of disabled people of color when you think about disability and ableism? How are the multiple, intersecting identities of disabled people of color present in your thinking?

  11. What systems, norms, and assumptions make inaccessibility possible at ASHE? What enables inaccessibility to persist at ASHE?

Contributors List

This statement was developed and refined by scholars engaged through the CEP Accessibility and Equity/Inclusion Sub-Committee, which was convened by CEP Chair (2020-2022), Dr. Lissa D. Ramirez-Stapleton, California State University, Northridge and chaired by Dr. Julia Rose Karpicz (2021) and Dr. Gina A. Garcia (2022). This group included the following scholars (listed in alphabetical order) and others:

  • Esteban Alcalá, University of Pittsburgh, PA
  • Brenda E. Avilés, University of North Texas, Denton, TX
  • Daniel J. Blake, University of Pennsylvania, PA
  • Val Erwin, Bowling Green State University, OH
  • Cherese F. Fine, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, IL
  • Gina A. Garcia, University of Pittsburgh, PA
  • Julia Rose Karpicz, University of California, Los Angeles, CA
  • Emily R. Koren, University of Pittsburgh, PA / University of Southern California, CA
  • Georgina Rivera-Singletary, Saint Leo University, Saint Leo, FL
  • Gabriel Rodríguez Lemus, Jr., The University of Texas at Austin, TX
  • Kat J. Stephens-Peace, Oakland University, MI 

Additional Resources on Access at ASHE

  • Accessibility and Inclusion - Provides information about the accessibility of the conference location and information about how to request accommodations.
  • Creating an Accessible Presentation - Shares information about how to format accessible presentation materials and present in ways that center accessibility.

Reference List

Annamma, S. A. (2021). Too intersectional: What Black feminism and disability studies can build together. In Z. Luna & W.N. Laster Pirtle (Eds.), Black Feminist Sociology (pp. 277-290). Routledge.

Bailey, M., & Mobley, I. A. (2019). Work in the intersections: A black feminist disability framework. Gender & Society33(1), 19-40.

Clare, E. & Lau, T. C. W. (2017). Brilliant imperfection: A conversation between Eli Clare (EC) and Travis Chi Wing Lau (TCL). The Deaf Poets Society (5),

Disability Visibility Project. (2019, February 1). Access is love.

Grace, D. (2017, May 18). Revisiting #DisabilityTooWhite one year later. (Hint: There’s still a problem). Medium.

Hubrig, A., Osorio, R., Simpkins, N., Anglesey, L. R., Cecil-Lemkin, E., Fink, M., ... & Cedillo, C. V. (2020). Enacting a culture of access in our conference spaces. College Composition and Communication72(1).

Lewis, T. A. (2022, January 1). Working definition of ableism - January 2022 update.

Mingus, M. (2011, February 12). Changing the framework: disability justice. Leaving Evidence.

Mingus, M. (2010, May 3). Wherever you are is where I want to be: Crip solidarity. Leaving Evidence.

Project Lets. (n.d.). History of disability justice.

Pryal, K.R.G. (2016, April 12). Can you tell the difference between accommodation and accessibility? Medium.