About the Conference

What does it mean to disclose disability in the context of higher education? This conference will engage scholars from across the country in multi- and inter-disciplinary conversation and collaboration around this question. More specifically, it will coalesce around the issue of disability disclosure, a deeply complex social and cultural phenomenon. Such attention to disability in higher education comes at a propitious moment: 23 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, people who grew up with the protection and access provided by the law at their backs are now enrolling as students and beginning to populate the academy as professionals and faculty members.

Within higher education, disability disclosure is a significant area of inquiry because it directly addresses questions about what bodies are included—and excluded—in constructions of scholarship, teaching, and professional activity within colleges and universities. Indeed, as faculty, staff, and students engage one another in various ways across the academy, for those with disabilities, the ways and means of disclosing disability, as well as the consequences of disability disclosure, are complex and consequential. For example, Peter Wayne Moe (2012) and Nicole Quackenbush (2010) each address how Michael J. Fox purposefully displays the physical effects that Parkinson’s disease has on him during oral testimony. These scholars show that disclosing a disability is not a single event, but rather a rhetorical process involving various audiences, language choices, purposes, and modes of delivery (see Kerschbaum).

Questions surrounding disability disclosure are being widely engaged by scholars in the humanities, such as rhetoric scholars interested in how disclosures function rhetorically as well as those interrogating such disclosures in cultural representations of disability. Such questions are also important in the social and physical sciences, as researchers devise studies to empirically understand and examine the experience of disability in the academy, or interrogate the paucity of disabled students and faculty in particular fields. Indeed, the perception of disability and the acceptance of disability varies widely across campus, not just between the humanities, the social sciences, and the physical sciences, but even within disciplines as well.

Specific questions that might fruitfully be explored by conference attendees and presenters include:

  • How do the intersections of various identities, including race, gender, sexuality, class, religious affiliation, national culture/ethnicity, and geographic origin, affect the disclosure or display of disability?
  • What are the intersections and/or convergences between disability disclosure, queer theory (epistemologies of the closet), and critical race studies (the politics of “passing”)?
  • How are disabilities socially, culturally, and contextually defined and understood within particular institutional environments and settings, including disciplines?
  • What is the incidence and experience of disability in higher education?
  • How do people disclose disability, and how are those disclosures understood by different audiences?
  • What circumstances make the process of disclosure more likely to lead to inclusive practice?
  • How can postsecondary educational institutions create a more accessible environment for disabled faculty, students, and staff?