‘Managing’ disability

This article investigates the work and worries of new college students who have disabilities.

Goode, J. (2007) ‘’Managing’ disability: early experiences of university students with disabilities’, Disability & Society, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 35-48 [Online]. DOI: 10.1080/09687590601056204


  1. Introduction
  2. The case study institution
  3. Research methods
  4. Managing disability
    1. Identity matters
    2. Disclosure
    3. Emotional work
    4. Being proactive
    5. Transition into higher education
  5. Conclusion


Twenty university students with disabilities were interviewed about their experiences at their school. These interviews were conducted about 2 years before UK law required universities to meet accessibility standards, but the unnamed university is often considered one of England’s best. They had accessibility efforts ongoing, and had recently put additional policies in place. One assumes things have improved….

The interviews are useful in that they provide a first-person look at the accessibility and support needs of university students with disabilities.

Identity issues: Much like all college students who are living away from the first time, the students who were interviewed were trying to figure out how to organize their lives, and grappling with who they want to be or how they want to present themselves to others.

Disclosure: They needed to disclose their disability to the school to get support. This led to several types of worries:

Visibility: Requesting support led to unwanted attention (for example, when asking a head professor for lecture notes), and the supports themselves also brought unwanted attention to them (for example, having a note-taker sitting next to them).

Emotional work: The students noted that there is a certain amount of work they need to do, to communicate their needs. This can be emotionally uncomfortable and require assertiveness, and it can be draining to the point of feeling like they are having to “battle the system”. Also, they note the work of trying to make other (non-disabled) people feel comfortable being around a person with disabilities.

Timeliness: Some of the students didn’t know what type of support they needed or how to go about getting it in their university. Others reported that there was a significant wait time for getting the requested supports. The results all around was that a significant amount of time was lost to not having the needed support.

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