Paul Artale leading on a table

Do I want to be recognized? Reflections on my experience with (Dis)Ability and working in Higher Education

My name is Paul. I was born missing fingers and have funny arms. I am ok with it. There really isn’t much that I can’t do and I have learned to adapt.

People who looked at me probably thought I could never play college football but yeah…I did that. I even coached it for a while. I loved my time working in athletics and although I looked different, I never felt out of place or discriminated against. I was just Paul Artale, football guy, and keeping teams from scoring on us was the most important thing in the world. I bring up football because being an athlete (and the lessons learned from it) are still very prominent pieces of my identity.

Disability is a complex and nuanced identity. Disability is not a primary, or even secondary identity for many people with a disability. My athletic identity, ethnicity, and nationality (Canadian) are far more prevalent in my life. On a good day, it is something I don’t think about much about. On a rare bad day it is something that I repress. Disability is often left out of discussions about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) because individuals with disabilities frequently do not prioritize their disability identity, or leave it completely out of conversations because it is a secondary or tertiary identity. Another reason is that disability is often perceived as a medical condition; a person has a condition, they adapt, they persist, and they almost forget they had a disability in the first place.

Paul Football
[creative commons]

Viewing disability identity through a social lens complicates things further. Society as a whole is not comfortable talking about issues around ability on a meaningful level. The subject is a bit taboo and as a result an individual with a disability may not always feel that wearing the disability hat is in their best interest. One doesn’t want to be tokenized, or thought of as less than, so you hide the disability, don’t mention the identity, and in doing so hope it is overlooked. This is the reason when I am job searching I love phone interviews, and dread in-person ones. On the phone, I am like everybody else; in person I have to worry about being discounted the moment I extend my hand to say hello. Sometimes I tell myself, “this institution prides itself on diversity in the workforce.” But do those interviewing me see ability as part of the diversity puzzle? I am not so sure.

What do I mean?

Ironically, the problem emerged when higher education institutions started to pay more attention to DEI issues. When DEI emerged as a priority, the exclusion of ability as an identity made me feel isolated and less welcome than one might expect.Consider for a moment a hiring committee that is very focused on bringing in a diverse applicant pool. What if, while looking at materials the committee chair says, “We want to bring a diverse pool to campus of underrepresented applicants. So let’s make sure we have diversity in terms of gender and race/ethnicity.” Two things a committee member with a disability might be thinking are: 1) are those with disabilities not underrepresented? and 2) what are the pros/cons of me speaking up and making a point?
The struggle to speak up is not just rooted in fear of association, labelling, etc. It is also rooted in knowing that many are uncomfortable or not knowledgeable enough about disability to properly react.

Let me share a personal experience.

At the beginning of my doctoral program, during my search for external scholarships. I came across a scholarship from a major national educational organization advertising scholarships for members of traditionally underrepresented groups. I read the scholarship description, but while it mentioned racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic identities, ability was not specifically mentioned. However, the criteria still seemed vague, so I emailed the committee. Two days later I received a reply that confirmed that ability was not a qualifying criteria; however, the response also noted that if I had a racial or ethnic identity in the minority that my disability would make my application “very competitive” which in my mind translated to: disability didn’t count unless it was a free add on bonus

As a student affairs practitioner, frustration surfaces in unexpected places:

  • Being told my department has absolutely no diversity (I flailed my arms around to remind people, but I guess it didn’t work).
  • When DEI programs about disability are dealing with ADA compliance, and not identity, nor the myriad of disabilities (visible and invisible) that our students possess.
  • Working on campuses that programming heavily for heritage months but ignore Disability Awareness Month.
  • Not hearing ability mentioned in discussions of marginalized groups.
  • Presenting a workshop on navigating disability identity in the workplace to colleagues with disabilities and getting collective agreement when you mention how often ability is left out of many DEI initiatives. It’s bittersweet. On one hand you are glad to find common experience with colleagues; on the other hand, you almost hope that your experience is unique, because being unique in this case means others aren’t struggling with this issue.

Up until a year ago I was hesitant to mention anything about ability in a meeting or to do any work that directly deals with this topic. It was at a meeting where a new scholarship policy was announced that I felt was not fair to students with disabilities that I finally opened my mouth. In that moment I realized that my silence helped nobody. This is why I have now embraced being on a few diversity committees, working in a new job that has some disability related work, and even doing workshops on disability identity for campuses and organizations.By now you may be asking “What can I do to improve the situation on my campus?”

I am offering eight easy strategies and some resources to get you started. They are:

1. If you are involved in making curriculum decisions for, or teach courses addressing DEI, ensure disability is covered.

2. Attend trainings on disability related matters and/or cover disability related in staff trainings. Improve your practice and knowledge by making the discussion on disability part of core expectations. To do this:

a. Ensure trainings shift focus between spheres such as identity, physical disability, and invisible disabilities.

b. Share the information gained from these trainings with your student leaders, incorporate it into diversity and inclusion trainings, and infuse it into student staff trainings (resident assistants, orientation leaders, Rho Gamma etc).

3. Understand that disability is not just a medical condition requiring Individual Education Plans (IEPs), formal diagnosis, accommodations and modifications; it is an identity that contributes to the diversity of your institution.

4. If you are forming committees made up of “diverse” membership, then make it a point to ensure a voice (or two or three) is present to represent the viewpoints of people with disabilities.

5. Hire speakers who are disabled and identify with it, whether they speak on disability or not.

6. If you don’t have much experience working with people with disabilities, engage with them.

7. Create robust programming around Disability Awareness Month. Don’t rely on the fine folks in Disability Services to do all this work alone.

8. Reflect on your own practice. How inclusive have you been on this topic? What are your biases, assumptions, and conceptions What can you do to affect positive change around this topic?

The higher education landscape still has a long way to go in creating a more inclusive environment for those with disabilities. As a field, we still view it from a largely medical and legal perspective, but disability as an identity and as a social construct is complex and warrants more attention. The good news is that the field of higher education is filled with great people who are committed to change and who have inspired me to speak up, get involved, and work towards a more inclusive practice.

___

Dr. Paul Artale is a motivational speaker, researcher, and author who works with organizations who want to create disability inclusive cultures. A former student affairs administrator, Dr. Artale’s research focuses on how student affairs can retain top talent.

For more information visit http://www.paulartale.com

#studentaffairs #disability #sachats #disabilityinclusion

Resources

Artale, Paul. Disability awareness: Disability Identity at Work. Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FkkzI_INto

Bruyere, S. M.; Erickson, W. A.; Ferrentino, J. T. (2003). Identity and disability in the workplace. William and Mary Law Review 44(3), 1173-1196.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common Barriers to Participation Experienced by People with Disabilities. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/disability-barriers.html

Department of Labor. National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2017. https://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/ndeam/

Seale, J. K. (2013). E-learning and disability in higher education: accessibility research and practice. Routledge.

Wendell, S. (1996). The rejected body: Feminist philosophical reflections on disability. Psychology Press. * particularly Chapter 2. The Social Construction of Disability.

Suggested Citation

Artale P. (2017,October 5). Do I want to be recognized? Reflections on my experience with (Dis)Ability and working in Higher Education Retrieved from https://ascnhighered.org/ASCN/posts/188961.html

5 QUESTIONS TO HELP YOU ANALYZE YOUR CAREER PATH IN STUDENT AFFAIRS

Most of us come into student affairs through some happy accident. Quite often, we were engaged as student-leaders and somehow discovered that we could get paid to do similar work.  My foray into student affairs came through athletics where I started as an assistant coach/hall director at a small private liberal arts college in Kansas. At the time I was going on the track to being a head coach. After a few years, athletic director seemed like a better fit. A few years after that I was just confused about what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to stay in student affairs, I just wasn’t sure where I fit in. It wasn’t until a mentor of mine posed these five questions to me that I was able to focus in on what I wanted and was able to make clearer career choices.

Question 1: Do you have any experience not related to your undergraduate interests? In other words, are you getting out of your comfort zone. I came into student affairs because of my experiences in athletics and helping to manage a fraternity house. I hadn’t done much outside of the athletic space. For me I stepped out of my comfort zone and took a position in academic advising to gauge fit and to expand my knowledge. This would prove to be critical experience for me years later when I ventured out of athletics and into graduate student success work. Continue reading “5 QUESTIONS TO HELP YOU ANALYZE YOUR CAREER PATH IN STUDENT AFFAIRS”

3 STRATEGIES TO FIND A BETTER FIT BETWEEN YOURSELF AND YOUR JOB

*Originally published in NASPA New Professionals and Graduate Students Newsletter

Student affairs work is great. I have always found it interesting, challenging, and rewarding. There are a multitude of job types within our profession that require different skillsets and abilities. As diverse the working world of student affairs is, finding the right job for you can be difficult. A job may seem fantastic on paper but once we start doing it….well we may quickly regret our choice. Conversely, we may agree to a job or project that we think is not ideal and discover that we love it. Six years ago, I would have never considered working with graduate students and yet I now find myself enjoying everything working with that population brings. Moreover, I also enjoy the culture of working in a graduate school and have found it is largely a better fit as it relates to both my professional and work-life needs. I was fortunate to find my optimal fit. To help you find optimal fit on your professional journey, here are three types of fit you need to consider during your career. These fits can help you in your current roles as much as it can during a job search. Continue reading “3 STRATEGIES TO FIND A BETTER FIT BETWEEN YOURSELF AND YOUR JOB”

3 Work-Life Tips For Student Affairs Professionals to Start the Academic Year

Hooray! It’s August/September and the students are coming back to campus and that means for those of us in student affairs, we are as the French would say, “le busy.”

Most of us expect this time of year to be filled with orientations, welcome, and all sorts of amazing programs. We expect ourselves to be busy this time of year (which is good) but in that hustle and bustle we have to make sure we don’t continue or repeat negative work-life habits.

To help ensure you are at optimum work-life, here are 3 simple tips for you to consider as you begin the academic year.

Continue reading “3 Work-Life Tips For Student Affairs Professionals to Start the Academic Year”

4 Ways to Truly Appreciate Graduate Students All Year Round

This week marks the end Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week (GPSAW) across the country.  Although I am biased, graduate and professional students are a significant part of the campus ecosystem. Graduate students serve as instructors, administrators (a 20 hr. a week Grad Assistant is just a ½ employee in my book), innovate thought, and add a more mature dynamic on our campuses.

Taking time to celebrate, thank, acknowledge, and pamper grad students is something all campuses should have done this week. But what happens after this week? Do we go back to forgetting them and focusing on undergraduates again? I hope not. Here are 4 suggestions you can implement on your campus to make sure graduate students are appreciated and heard beyond the free donuts, massages, and swag that comes with GPSAW.

Continue reading “4 Ways to Truly Appreciate Graduate Students All Year Round”

3 False Assumptions About Graduate Student Leaders

There is an underlying assumption that graduate student leaders do not need much support because they are more mature and experienced than undergraduate leaders. Although this may be true in some cases, this notion is based on 3 faulty assumptions. It should be noted that these assumptions are often subtly embedded in our structures and activities vs overt attempts to limit the graduate student leader experience.  In other words, campuses don’t mean to limit this experience but sometimes do so without realizing it mainly because they buy into one or all of these false assumptions. The assumptions are: Continue reading “3 False Assumptions About Graduate Student Leaders”