Include Us: Disabled Black People and People of Colour Academics and Disablist Academia

By Armineh Soorenian

Include us: Disabled Black People and People of Colour academics and disablist academia.

By Armineh Soorenian

Disabled students, researchers and academics of Disabled Black People and People of Colour academics are frequently confronted with multi-layered and multifaceted barriers which ignore the intersectionality of their identities in a neoliberal British higher education system. Disablist, racist, homophobic and sexist standards are rife in education. In academia, work identification is so strongly related to personal identity that individuals continue to ‘live up’ to the arbitrary standards present in the academy. This often results in Disabled learners and academics internalising the toxic ideology of disablism at the levels of personhood, life, power and privilege. For example, such macro/micro-aggressions as performance standards that do not recognise the impairment-related experiences of Disabled people are often internalised in order to maintain employment.

Throughout their academic career, at times to the detriment of their mental and physical health, many Disabled academics perform like ‘super cripples’. The need for access and accommodations, including extra time and extensions are generally not welcomed in the current neoliberal and disablist academic environment where high productivity is expected in short time frames. Increased demands are placed on academics’ time, over the life of their precarious and often part-time contracts. In contrast, the non-disabled white heterosexual male academic (full-time) is generally the norm. Everyone else is almost diminished and considered not as desirable. Discrimination against Disabled Black People and People of Colour in favour of non-disabled scholars is sadly all too familiar in higher education.

Added to disablism, discriminatory treatment on the grounds of being racially, culturally and ethnically different is also abundant in education. I’m of the view that the compounding discriminatory practices have become habit and not necessary law. Academics are expected to master a certain form of articulation and elegance when making an argument or writing their opinions. There seems to be little accommodation of language barriers for non-native speakers in academia, evident in some critical, discouraging or even hurtful feedback Disabled Black People and People of Colour academics regularly receive on their written work.

There is an unsatisfactory level of exclusion and inequality experienced by Disabled Black People and People of Colour, who are often isolated and have to develop a far greater level of personal determination to cope with the bullying inherent in academia that they attract simply by being Disabled and Black or a person of colour. Social conditions that disable many people are racially coded. The discipline of Disability Studies is in itself racial, gendered and class-based almost always in danger of reinforcing the message that Disabled people are a homogenous group of people which does little to address the intersectional inequality within the Disability Rights Movement. This is why advocates of the social model of disability, whilst campaigning for the removal of barriers in society, would benefit from recognising the multiple discrimination that intersect not only with impairment but also with other identity characteristics such as gender, ‘race’, age, sexuality and so on.

For decades, the side-lining of research conducted by Disabled academics and Disabled Black People and People of Colour activists has resulted in the exclusion and wastage of their experiences and skills. This is a very unjust system which ought to be thoroughly challenged by all those concerned with continuing disability rights and the fight for inclusion. The research environment should develop alternatives and voices of Disabled Black People and People of Colour must be prioritised in this process. The new system must provide opportunities to engage in politics and attend to the intersectional ethics of collective determination with everyday acts of resistance in academia.


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