Disability in Higher Education: Using Applied Anthropology to Dismantle Academic Ableism
Kevin Darcy

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Colorado Boulder

Primary Discipline

Do the pedagogical principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) lead to full equity and more inclusive experiences for disabled people? UDL has been touted as a possible solution to dismantling academic ableism, a social system that places value on bodies and minds based around socially constructed ideas of normalcy and productivity. While proponents of UDL seek to facilitate inclusion for all students, UDL?s universalizing principles may not account for diverse, intersectional experiences of disabled people. Although UDL offers a foundation for inclusive learning, it may also be discursively constructed as a panacea that supposedly eliminates the need for academic accommodations. Consequently, people with disabilities are concerned that their unique individual needs could be overlooked and that UDL may perpetuate their marginalization. Kevin Darcy uses ethnographic research to assess the lived experiences of people with disabilities in education, employment, and social life. In order to offer insight into the ways concepts of inclusivity are operationalized and the way Digital Accessibility policy is put into practice, his research highlights experiences of faculty members, school staff, Vocational Rehabilitation staff, and other groups who work with disabled people. Ethnographic methodologies include semi-structured interviews, participant observation, and analyzing interlocutors? free writing journal entries. Kevin incorporates an autoethnographic approach by including his own experiences as a blind PhD student and teacher, and he situates his experiences navigating the dissertation process within the broader educational context.
About Kevin Darcy
Kevin Darcy is a PhD candidate at the University of Colorado, Boulder in the department of Anthropology. He applies his research in two directions: 1) to disrupt ableist barriers that impede student success and to highlight the value of increasing disability representation in higher education, and 2) to educate businesses in inclusivity and diversity policies and trainings. Kevin?s doctoral research assesses the experiences of disabled students and instructors within the context of Digital Accessibility and Universal Design for Learning (UDL). His research interests are rooted in his own experiences as a blind student and instructor navigating higher education. Kevin?s instructional philosophy demonstrates the creative potential of diverse representation in both course content and delivery. Outside of the classroom Kevin?s work has been used to inform digital accessibility training and to advocate for inclusivity and diversity at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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