Ways of rethinking inclusion for disabled students in Higher Education
Keywords:inclusion, Disability, social justice, invisibility, minoritised, exclusion
The word ‘inclusion’ now frequently appears in the marketing strategies of many UK universities, despite the equivocal ways the term is used across the sector (Koutsouris et al., 2022). For some of us in the field of disability studies, these ambiguities in the ways the concept of inclusion is used are one of the reasons why it has become emptied of meaning. While notionally disclosing the invisible work entailed in being disabled (Wertans and Burch, 2022), inclusion also implies a form of privileging: those on the inside determine who is included and on what grounds. This assimilationist discourse reproduces the socio-political structures and practices that categorise those who are outsiders (Biesta 2010; Biesta, 2019). Moreover, the technocratic nature of the current political context in which performance and its measurement are the main drivers of how higher education (HE) is required to address underrepresented groups and their performance (Peters, 2020; Supiot, 2021), for example, through access and participation plans, not only homogenises disability but inevitably excludes others (Evans and Zhu, 2022). For example, this may happen to postgraduate students, international students or those who, because of the discrimination and stigma they experience, choose not to disclose a disability. This presentation explored the problematic nature of inclusion in relation to disabled students in HE and how it might impact on the work of learning developers. The paper explored Biesta’s concept of ‘transclusion’ as a way of transforming and rethinking how we conceptualise and enact equality of access, participation and social justice and what this could mean for practitioners. It highlighted the extent to which we, as practitioners, could contest and respond to the complex demands of inclusion in ways that might help change institutional cultures and thinking about disability so that disabled students (and staff) remain less invisible.
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