Academic Ableism: Welsh University Web Pages’ Implicit Portrayal of Disability

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


This presentation shares insights from a recent research project which analysed the web pages of all nine Welsh universities’ ‘Disability Service’ (or equivalent) web pages. Critical Disability Studies (Watson and Vehmas, 2020) was utilised as a theoretical and philosophical lens to inform a Qualitative Content Analysis (Schreier, 2012) of the various web pages. This method seeks to surface implicit messages from qualitative data in a systematic way. Informed by the work of disabled activists at the heart of the Disability Studies movement, a concept-driven coding frame was developed, which mapped out potential narratives about disability which might be anticipated. The analysis of the web pages against the coding frame highlighted a significant emphasis on medicalised, individualised understandings of disability, locating deficit within the disabled student. There was a significant lack of disabled students’ voices throughout and overall, a narrative which portrayed disabled students as dependent and inevitably in need of help. This echoes Timothy Dolmage’s (2017) notion of academic ableism and provides one example of systemic ableism in Higher Education. These web pages, where disability is positioned as deficient and abnormal, may be one of the first points of contact with universities for disabled applicants and thus may limit recruitment of disabled applicants with great potential. It is proposed that engaging with the disruptive quality of crip studies may challenge this accepted and normative discourse and provide alternative conceptualisations of disabled identity and intersectionality within Higher Education. While these findings will be shared within Welsh universities to seek to raise consciousness of these issues (Young, 1990), this presentation is positioned as an opportunity to discuss the findings with disabled activists and academics, which could provide valuable insight and development of the research and its impact.

Dolmage, T. (2017), Academic Ableism, University of Michigan Press.
Schreier, M. (2012), Qualitative Content Analysis in Practice, London: SAGE.
Watson, N. and Vehmas, S. (2020), Routledge Handbook of Disability Studies (2nd Edn), London: Routledge.
Young, M. (1990), Justice and the Politics of Difference, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusSubmitted - 13 Apr 2020
EventCrioposium: A two-day virtual symposium on disability and intersectionality - Online
Duration: 6 Jun 202013 Jun 2020


Internet address


  • higher education
  • ableism
  • disability
  • disabled students
  • websites
  • disability studies
  • crip studies


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