Ableism in the Academy–It’s What’s For Breakfast

Ableism is akin to racism or homophobia but with one difference: the assumption that physically challenged bodies are “someone else’s issue” remains largely unexamined outside academic or activist circles within disability communities.   

—Stephen Kuusisto, before his first cup of coffee

You can’t include the disabled in whatever is meant by “diversity” until the problem above is addressed. 

—Kuusisto after his second cup of coffee  

That the disabled belong in special offices, sequestered environments, is a a hangover from the 19th century. Just as people of color or women still experience cruel 19th century headaches, the disabled do also. The academy taught racial separation, “the White Man’s Burden”, eugenics, and promoted the medical and psychological inferiority of women and people of color throughout the 1800’s and long into the 20th century. The hierarchies of post-secondary-education in the U.S. remain in an amnesiac state—you see, I’ve even chosen an ableist metaphor to make the point. Where disability is concerned, college administrators see no reason to address the structural dynamics of outworn and damaging ideas—after all disability is about accommodations and doesn’t a special office take care of that?

—Kuusisto after a bowl of oatmeal

 The last sentence above is always spoken by the able bodied. The disabled don’t say this. They say “we’re part of the village now.” 

The able bodied say, “you’re part of the village only insofar as it’s convenient. Go to your special office.”

—K after walking his dog

 Loose Notes:

  • The special office is always in an out of the way location. 
  • The special office is always understaffed.
  • The S.O. gives faculty and administration permission to think “the disabled” (who are really cash paying students—your sister, your friend, your neighbor….) are a complicated problem, requiring sequestered and specialized “treatment”.
  • This is an outworn model for disability engagement. 
  • Faculty and staff need to be brought into the 21st century where disability is concerned. 
  • This cannot be accomplished if able bodied faculty, staff, and administration cannot confront the legacies of ableist thinking. 
  • No one likes to be called ableist. Just as some white people hate to be called out for white privilege and say, “but I have a black friend”—thereby proving their privilege—ableists are fond of saying “I CARE about disability”—which  often means, “I want to change the subject.”
  • This is what I like to call the ableist shrug. If the able bodied believe themselves progressive but fail to assist the disabled when they experience obstacles, then they’re extending ableism. 


—Kuusisto after a shower 

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

3 thoughts on “Ableism in the Academy–It’s What’s For Breakfast”

  1. Reblogged this on AS I LIVE & BREATHE and commented:
    This was a thought provoking post. I realize that disabled identity is a complex issue within many communities & I had my own thoughts but the insights here are so powerful I felt this was worth a reblog. I believe the root cause here is as SK points out the assumption that physically challenged bodies are someone else’s issue. This long held belief also takes root in the complexities that many people who identity as having invisible disabilities also face. This post addresses academia, but I’ve felt many of these insights in other aspects of my life outside academia. But it’s a great springboard into many other conversations…Thank you Stephen Kuusisto for this post & your permission to reblog it. I’m happy to have connected with you on WP.


  2. this is a great post. Do you mind if I reblog this to my site at some point? I think the insights are really succinct but powerful.


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