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Strategies for Inclusion in Higher Education
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Demands for excellence and efficiency have created an ableist culture in academia. What impact do these expectations have on disabled, chronically ill and neurodivergent colleagues?

This important and eye-opening collection explores ableism in academia from the viewpoint of academics' personal and professional experiences and scholarship. Through the theoretical lenses of autobiography, autoethnography, embodiment, body work and emotional labour, contributors from the UK, Canada and the US present insightful, critical, analytical and rigorous explorations of being ‘othered’ in academia.

Deeply embedded in personal experiences, this perceptive book provides examples for universities to develop inclusive practices, accessible working and learning conditions and a less ableist environment.

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Ellingson, Butler-Rees, Leigh and Smith have all taken their very own approach to understanding autoethnography, self-narrative and embodied inquiry. Yet, at the core of all four contributions lies the focus on the self and reflexivity. Indeed, self-narratives and autoethnographic work emphasise the need to gain deep understanding of the self (auto) in order to be able to analytically engage (graphy) with wider socio-cultural issues (ethno) (Ellis and Bochner, 2000).

The general critique and criticism of self-narratives lies in the potential lack of rigour of the analytical engagement with culture. However, as the four chapters have demonstrated the emphasis on the self, the lived experience and the body-as-lived enables an understanding that impacts the reader viscerally.

At the same time, these four contributions are in themselves critiques of the kinds of knowledges that are favoured in academia. Ellingson, Butler-Rees, Leigh and Smith highlight that their knowing and experiencing are highly relational and contextual. Life experiences do not occur in a vacuum, but shape and are shaped by the interactions and connections with other human beings in the specific contexts in which they occur (Leigh and Brown, 2021). This relational and contextual nature of experiences in turn requires a strong look inside oneself, thus a focus on the self and reflexivity to make sense of and analyse the meanings of experiences. In other words, the authors’ inward-look enables them to reflect, to look outwards, to make connections and to develop their theorisations of their own experiences.

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I am an invited guest speaker talking on the topic of ableism in academia. I have held this talk on several occasions already, I know what I am going to say, and I am so attuned to what comes next, that I can include performative elements. Today, I find myself lingering a little bit longer than usual on the topic of conferences. I have already pointed out how difficult it is to navigate the lunch-time buffet if you have disabilities.

“Let’s continue imagining. Here we are now with everyone else eating our food, and we would like to network with other conference delegates. But that won’t be possible!”

I pause for effect, and pointing to the person signing furiously to my left, I finally add:

“Because the Sign Language interpreters are on their lunch break. Again, a shift in attitude is required. We tend to see the sign language interpreters to be there for the person who is deaf; but in reality, they are here because people like me cannot sign. The barrier is not the deafness, the barrier is my lack of language.”

After the entire talk, a number of attendees approach me to have a quick chat, ask questions and to thank me. I am happy talking and explaining. I am in my element; until the deaf delegate and his British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter come up to me. I greet them both, saying hello and thanking the interpreter for his help. I am utterly embarrassed. Apart from hello and thank you, I can say nothing. I had formal education in English, French, Latin and Spanish as foreign languages, so I get by in most European languages comfortably, and because I understand how the structure works, I pick up languages quickly.

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On 23 March 2018, the Ableism in Academia conference took place at the UCL Institute of Education. The event was unique for the UK higher education landscape in several ways. First, the conference offered delegates a safe space to exchange ideas and theorise experiences not from the vantage point of being a typical, fully ‘able-bodied and able-minded’ academic, but from the very personal and intimate understanding of what it means to not fit the mould. The conference was not at all limited or restricted to academics with disabilities, chronic illnesses and/or neurodivergences, but the nature of the topic clearly affected and interested that group of scholars the most. I know that every single delegate had one form of need or another. Second, and related to the fact that every delegate had disclosed some need, the conference was the first of its kind by way of accessibility and inclusion. The event was organised in such a way that delegates could participate in and contribute to within the halls of the conference setting, but also remotely from home. The organisation had included ensuring the right foods would be available, people would be able to see and hear and to withdraw and relax whenever and whichever way they needed to (see Brown et al, 2018 for full details). And third, the conference stood out for its aim to have a lasting effect on conference speakers, delegates and the volunteers involved. The topic of ableism in academia, and the emotions of frustration, stress, embarrassment and failure, were just too important and raw for the conference to be a passing fad.

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This book is the result of a long process. In November 2017, I spearheaded the organisation of a conference on the theme of ableism in academia held at the UCL Institute of Education in the spring of 2018. My interest in organising the conference came out of fieldwork, which led to me understanding more deeply the sense of failure many academics experience because they cannot meet expectations placed upon them due to their ill health or disabilities. The response to the conference was so overwhelming that I decided straight away there would be two edited books: one would provide the space for theorising experiences and the second would use the lived experiences as a starting point for recommendations to improve attitudes and practices in higher education. After the successful launch of Ableism in Academia: Theorising Experiences of Disabilities and Chronic Illnesses in Higher Education (Brown and Leigh, 2020), this is now the second edited book.

In this edited collection, members of academia explore notions of ableism in academia from the viewpoint of their personal and professional experiences and scholarship. The book introduces pressures and challenges faced by disabled, chronically ill and/or neurodivergent academics written from the viewpoint of those working in academia and exploring what can be done to help others like them. Of course, lived experiences of illnesses and disabilities are not uniform, and neither are the circumstances and backgrounds of individuals. As such, the experiences presented in this book are merely a starting point to begin conversations around ableism in academia in earnest.

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Providing practical guidance based on real-life examples, this book shows researchers different forms and ways of keeping a research journal and how to get the most out of journaling.

Appealing to postgraduate students, new and experienced researchers, the book:

• provides a theoretical grounding and information about knowledge and sensory systems and reflexivity;

• presents a practical exploration of what a journal looks like and when and how to record entries;

• includes helpful end-of-chapter exercises and online resources.

Providing valuable food for thought and examples to experiment with, the book highlights the different forms of research journals and entries so that readers can find what works for them. Giving researchers licence to do things differently, the book encourages and enables readers to develop their own sense of researcher identity and voice.

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Within the social sciences, anyone who has ever undertaken or been involved in research, or who has attended courses and workshops on research methods, will have been told about maintaining a research log, journal or diary. Research methods handbooks also mention logs, journals or diaries (see, for example, Hatch, 2002; Hahn, 2008; Shaw and Holland, 2014; Silverman, 2017; Forrester and Sullivan, 2018). Mostly, we are told to keep a journal to record our reflections on positionality for a reflexivity statement, our thought processes involved in narrowing down research topics, and to maintain our fieldnotes more generally. Yet, there is no specific guidance and support on how to keep an effective research diary, which notes to take, or what to do with our entries in a research journal. While research logs, like other forms of journalling, require regularity and consistency, in practice, many of us feel under pressure to produce entries that are also relevant and appropriate. Consequently, many of us give up on our research logs early on, only to realise later in our research journey that some notes or entries would or could have been useful.

This book does not claim to be exhaustive. Instead, it should be used as a stepping-stone towards making better use of research journals. With this book, I hope to inspire you regarding the form, format and content of a research journal, to experiment with less conventional approaches alongside more traditional paths. I hope to offer you the confidence you need to be able to trust your own instincts and to challenge and break free from existing paradigms and schools of thought.

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What a research journal looks like depends on what, when and how you want to record your entries. This chapter should therefore stand alongside or after Chapters 3, 4 and 5. However, this chapter stands early in the book because most often our first thought relating to maintaining a research journal is to choose the right tools, and thus, to buy the right journal.

This assumption about the right research journal points to an important myth, namely that there is the research journal. In reality, we rarely get to see each other’s research journals, but when we do, our misconceptions may be skewed further. I myself have attended conferences or workshops where I ended up sitting next to the person with the research journal: a perfect, pristine, beautiful, well-organised, hand-paginated book with cross-references and annotations, containing key words and search terms along with an index, and all in perfect cursive handwriting. My own scribbles across several loose, unnumbered pages not only pale in comparison, but become a source of deep embarrassment, guilt and envy in those moments. What I have learned over the years is that for many academics the research journal they bring to conferences or workshops is not their only one, and that their other research journals look quite different.

Reading through research reports, journal articles and other publications relating to research processes, we are consistently confronted with outputs that claim excellence, originality, perfection and success. As researchers we all know that research is messy, chaotic, untidy, disorderly. Yet publications hardly ever account for this nature of research.

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