Labour Studies Index

Faculty Narratives of Disability in Academic Work

Document type Thesis
Author Dolan, Vera Lúcia Brandão
Degree Ph.D., Leadership, Higher and Adult Education,
Publisher University of Toronto, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education; Toronto
Date 2018
Pages 211 pages


In the neoliberal academy, professors who disclose any form of impairment risk raising concerns about their fitness to perform their jobs. Academics are expected to deliver highly measurable outcomes from their work in order to build a positive reputation among their peers. But given the negativity that typically characterizes the disability discourse in Western cultures, it is all too easy for the scholarly community to infer that differentness equates to ineptness. Thus, individualist and ableist discourses are central to the discussion of power relations and care of the self in the contemporary academy. The focus of this doctoral thesis is “diversable” professors performing under neoliberal academic regimes. The term “diversability” is used to designate people with disabilities—particularly of an invisible nature—while debunking the fallacious connotation of incompetence habitually attached to their differentness. Combining self-narrative and postmodern-grounded theory, this study derives valuable insights from the stories of 16 professors, both tenured and untenured, who reveal how they navigate disability, as well as the intersecting dimensions of differentness attached to their self-identities. The findings suggest that diversable professors, in spite of an academic environment embedded in disability avoidance—and the usual structural contingencies that can prevent scholars from fully demonstrating their value—can present counter-narratives that include positive constructions of self-identity as good teachers, researchers and advocates for social justice. This research also uncovers inadequacies in the academy itself—but not without a message of hope for remedial change.