Recently, I represented NHNA in a monthly American Nurses Association’s Nursing Practice & Work Environment (NP&WE) conference call. With the goal of “promoting the health, safety, and wellness of the nurse and the nursing profession,” this call served to educate and disseminate information of interest to nurses. ANA members included Marie Barry, MSN, Senior Policy Analyst; Holly Carpenter, Senior Staff Specialist; Jaime Dawson, MPH, Senior Policy Analyst and Ruth Francis, MPH, MCHES, Sr. Administrative Assistant. Current projects of the ANA NP&WE include HealthyNurseTM, Safe Patient Handling and Mobility, Fatigue, Safe Staffing and Care Coordination.
A colleague in a wheelchair goes into an underground passage connecting two campus buildings. Once the entrance locks behind him, he discovers that the door at the other end refuses to open with his swipe card. Although he is a vigorous man of middle age, the maintenance worker who comes to his rescue calls him Pops.
A student with a sensory-processing disorder needs to sit in the front row of class and take notes on a laptop computer, but the professor insists that laptops may be used only in the back of the room. After the student explains her situation, he announces to the entire class that he is making a "special exception" for her.
I heard these and other stories about broken elevators, stairs without handrails, and inaccessible bathrooms at a recent panel on disability and the university that I organized on campus for students, faculty, and staff from our Office of Disability Services.
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.)