BkRev #1803. Disability in Higher Education: A Social Justice Approach. (2017). Nancy J. Evans, Ellen M. Broido, Kirsten R. Brown, & Autumn K. Wilke. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 515 pp. Price $45. ISBN 978-1-118-01822-4 http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1118018222.html


CJ Venable

College of Communication and Information

Kent State University


As an advisor who recently developed a disabling impairment, I found this book exceedingly timely.  Published in 2017, Disability in Higher Education is a comprehensive review of the literature on disability and higher education, interwoven with suggestions for practice.  The authors examine nearly every aspect of disability, beginning with consideration of how both impairments and environments, as well as their interaction, create disability.  Theoretical models and frameworks, history of the disability rights movement, and empirical research about students, faculty, and staff are all addressed, as well as all major student affairs functions, including academic advising.  Further, academic and teaching concerns, physical environment, transitions, and even the role of facilities management in creating accessible and socially just institutions are discussed.  Beyond their professional utility, many points within the text were also personally illuminating, helping me to begin to make meaning from my own changing ability status.

While there is only a short section explicitly addressing academic advising, many parts of the text apply to advising practice, including physical space design, accessible communications and events, and awareness of campus resources.  Learning about the experiences and challenges of students with disabilities is invaluable.  And, while there is inevitably variation from institution to institution, gaining a general sense of the expectations and constraints of disability resource offices is also useful.  Understanding the differences between an accommodations-based model, where the norm is assumed and those outside the norm must be individually accommodated for access, and social justice-based models that prioritize universal access and operate under the assumption that people with differing abilities are present, important, and welcome, is a key takeaway for advisors.

At over 500 pages, this text may be intimidating for practitioners.  However, there are several sections that are easily read separately, with other parts left until needed.  For example, the initial chapters on disability frameworks and the history of the disability rights movement in education provide illuminating overviews with suggestions for further, in-depth reading.  In contrast, advisors with no teaching responsibilities may find the sections on inclusive teaching practices to be a useful reference, but not essential on an initial read.  A notable omission is that of campus spiritual support and how those offices or professionals can enact socially just practices for students with disabilities.

As students with disabilities enter higher education at rising rates, academic advisors must be able to create and maintain “equitable and inclusive environments” (Farr & Cunningham, 2017, p. 11), beyond the confines of our offices.  This makes the comprehensive nature of the text invaluable.  Beyond the practical resources, the authors position higher education as a potential site for increased possibilities for people with disabilities.  Social justice models of disability, access, and inclusion demand that we look beyond individualistic understandings of impairment and accommodation and view people with disabilities as equally capable and worthy of higher education.  For advisors who understand disability from a medical-deficit lens, this book may be a radical shift.  Ultimately, the authors more from higher education, with the frameworks, anecdotes, and data to back up those demands.  Whether as a course text or for professional development, reading Disability in Higher Education is an opportunity to learn about both our students and ourselves in service of social justice.


Farr, T., & Cunningham, L. (Eds.). (2017). Academic advising core competencies guide. Manhattan, KS: NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising.

Posted in: 2017 Book Reviews
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