Access and Disability Justice

Accessibility in Higher Education

Accessibility at post-secondary educational institutions has long been articulated through a service-based approach to classroom and educational accommodations, such as providing exam-taking services, note-takers, specialized accessibility software and equipment, adapting physical spaces for mobility, and specialized advising to students who have documented disabilities requiring accommodation. However, disabled faculty, students and activists have argued that this model of education makes disabled people a problem for the institution to provide solutions for. Instead, our institutions must understand how the structure of education functions to exclude disabled people, who must then advocate for their inclusion.

Increasingly, access/accessibility offices have turned to the language of universal accessibility—a design-based approach that attempts to remove all barriers to full participation of all students by starting from a model at the outset that allows all people to participate without barriers. While universal accessibility is the current best practice, it remains limited to design-based approaches and does not provide tools for the political work of transforming how our institutions relate to disability.

Disability does not look any particular way; it is an umbrella of diversity. Disability is universal – part of most everyone’s life course, crosscuts other lines of difference. Disclosure: students may be unwilling to disclose their disability status; never ‘out’ a student. Disability pedagogy is, above all else, flexible. It’s a nonlinear process, not a rulebook.

Jess Waggoner, Hailee Yoshizaki-Gibbons,
Ashley Mog, Krystal Cleary, and Margaret Price

Newer political approaches to disability focus increasingly on diversity rather than universality. For instance, neurodiversity frameworks move away from diagnosis towards recognizing the wide array of neurological, behavioural, and psychosocial dynamics shaping people’s experiences and identities. Self-identification models that focus on diversity prioritize agency and flexibility, focusing on options to allow people choice and self-determination. In the classroom, this involves changing our teaching and educational approaches by adapting to those in the room and inviting disability and disabled people into education, rather than relying on services to have disabled people adapt to the non-disabled learning classroom. Kelly Fritsch (2024) calls this approach “desiring disability” by practicing access as a collective process that implicates everyone in the classroom, including the teacher and students.

Self-Assessment Quiz

Want to test your familiarity with this section’s content? The following self-assessment quiz (available below) offers scenarios to help you test your knowledge and identify how best to use and engage with the material introduced in this section (online only).


Self-assessment questions for this section are available in the Appendix.


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Better Practices in the Classroom by Natalie Kouri-Towe and Myloe Martel-Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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