UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Who is missing? A critical analysis of disabled students' subjectivity in an ableist university culture Roberts, Earllene Katherine


Disabled Canadians have lower rates of post-secondary educational achievement than their non-disabled peers and consequently, lower rates of employment. Despite 30 years of awareness and attempts to address this discrepancy, the achievement rates of disabled Canadians remain significantly below non-disabled Canadians (Statistics Canada, 2017). Academia is not a welcoming place for disabled scholars (Titchkosky, 2011; Wendell, 1996) and post-secondary institutions have further work to do to fully include disabled students in their programs. This dissertation explores the complex arena in which power and social dynamics create hostile and/or welcoming environments for disabled students in post-secondary institutions. I ask, what subject positions are produced through university discursive practices and how do disabled students take up and/or resist these subject positions to give meaning to their university experience? I apply the qualitative, analytical approach of critical discourse analysis and draw on poststructuralist, critical social and disability theories in the analysis of two sets of data. The data includes interviews from six disabled students and four texts from the University of British Columbia Okanagan. The data was analyzed to uncover the types of subject positions that are produced through university discursive practices and how these discursive formations give meaning to disabled students’ university experience. Two major findings emerged from the analysis. First, there is an absence of representation of disability in the university texts (e.g., policies, websites). Second, this absence engenders a cultural environment that produces and reproduces a hegemonic ideal of the normate (Garland-Thomson, 1997) student who is abled. This research demonstrates that, at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, the culture which is shaped through discursive practices is grounded in a ubiquitous ableism that remains unnoticed and unchallenged. It is time to recognize where ableism is at work and challenge the practices it produces. Disability needs to be considered as one facet of the human experience of difference that has social, political, and cultural implications. Acknowledgement that disability exists in every facet of university along with an accurate representation of disabled students, educators, and scholars as valued, contributing members of the university community is a place to start.

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