Higher Education is known to privilege particular forms of knowledge and expertise (Dolmage, 2017), often prioritising ableist forms of communicating and being in the world (Bolt, 2019).  This presentation encourages delegates to consider the expertise that is often undervalued in higher education but which is rich and irreplaceable in our understanding of many concepts. This knowledge is that of those often categorised as Other (Goodley, 2017) such as individuals with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD). Individuals with learning disabilities may be infrequently employed as lecturers or experts in higher education but have much insight and expertise to share (Greenstein et al., 2015). While coproduced, emancipatory and inclusive research is gladly increasing in prominence (Walmsley and Johnson, 2003; Nind, 2014), a parallel dimension of teaching practice is under-researched.

A pedagogical project will be briefly presented as one example of how disabled school pupils and disabled actors were enabled to contribute expertise to modules where university students were to learn about diversity and inclusive practice. It is proposed that it would be inauthentic for a non-disabled academic to teach about disability, without authentic expertise in the form of lived experience. No amount of deliberate practice (Ericsson et al., 2007) could develop such expertise. Therefore, this project enabled students to “learn with and by, rather than about [disability]” (Laes and Westerlund, 2018, p. 34) from relevant experts. This enabled those who may otherwise not have access to or priority in higher education, to enrich the students' construction of knowledge and understanding. 

This project challenges the notion of academia as the ivory tower of knowledge construction (Dolmage, 2017) and promotes learning outside of the classroom, with experts by different definitions. The shift to framing disabled people as experts rather than service users, patients or participants enacts Lubet’s (2014a) theory of social confluence, suggesting that identity (and potentially expertise) is constructed from the shifting social context not by fixed markers. As such, disabled people could readily be positioned as experts and their valid and unique positions valued in university level knowledge construction as part of Kumashiro’s (2000) typologies of anti-oppressive education. It is proposed that this disruption of academics as experts and the politics of knowledge (Lave, 2019) could widen access to rich, authentic learning experiences and value an alternative conception of expertise.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 17 Jul 2020
EventHEPPP Research Network Symposium: Exploring Expertise in Teaching in Higher Education - University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol, United Kingdom
Duration: 16 Oct 202016 Oct 2020


ConferenceHEPPP Research Network Symposium: Exploring Expertise in Teaching in Higher Education
CountryUnited Kingdom
Internet address

    Research areas

  • expertise, social confluence, ableism, higher education, disability

ID: 3814961