Reading Reflection: Marshak et al.

Marshak et al. provide insight from college students about their decisions to use or not use disability services, as well as challenges with using the services. What example(s) stood out most to you from the article and why? How might some of these examples be helpful for thinking through some of the more abstract concepts we’ve discussed so far such as microagressions, accessibility, medical and/vs social model, and various disability myths? Do any of the examples speak to or shed light on our previous discussions? Or, are any of the examples helpful for thinking about your current or future project?

In the article, Markshak et. al investigate the barriers that prevent college students with disabilities from using the disability accommodations available on college campuses. They conducted a study involving sixteen participants with different types of disabilities at a medium-sized university and identified five categories of barriers: identity issues, desire to avoid negative social reactions, insufficient knowledge, perceived quality/usefulness of services, and negative experiences with professors.

I was somewhat surprised that identity issues were the most frequent barriers for seeking/using accommodations, but in retrospect it makes sense: many students wanted to be self-sufficient and avoid letting disability define their identity. I believe these identity issues are exacerbated by disability myths, in particular the myths that view disability as a “problem” with a person and that view disability as a defining part of a person’s identity. Other disability barriers, particularly insufficient knowledge and perceived quality/usefulness of services, are related to a lack of understanding or awareness about disability and accommodations by students with disabilities.

Removing these barriers is by no means an easy task. In general, one reason that these disability barriers exist is because of a disconnect between modern disability laws and societal notions about disability. Many modern disability laws are largely based on the social model of disability: they focus on equality and changes required in society to help accommodate disabled people. However, societal notions about disability are rooted in the medical model of disability: disabilities are viewed as medical “problems” that should be “fixed.” The medical model focuses on what is “wrong” with disabled people, while the social model focuses on the needs of disabled people and helps to empower them. It is evident that barriers like identity issues are grounded in this unhealthy medical model. As disability awareness continues to spread, society will shift towards the social model of disability and some of these barriers may reduced.


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