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Grad student writes essay on disability in academia

| Author: Hadlee Rinn | Media Contact: Kara Owens

Rachael McCollum, a graduate student studying Broadcast and Cinematic Arts, will have an essay on disabled people’s access to academia published in "Who Belongs? Institutional Betrayal in Higher Education." It is part of the series "The Feminist Wire Books: Feminisms, Race, and Social Justice,” which will be published by the University of Arizona Press in Fall 2024.  

McCollum’s main area of research lies in how disability is represented in media, specifically speculative fiction (sci-fi or fantasy). McCollum says, “There is a lot of research which suggests that disability is partially informed by your social circumstances, like how much people around you are supportive of your needs.” Speculative fiction creates an entirely new world that can give an interesting insight into perceptions of disability. 

For her essay on disability in academia, McCollum was inspired by her personal experiences. McCollum was applying for a research grant and was denied twice, upon further investigation McCollum discovered part of the reason she was turned down was due to her disability status. McCollum says, “They thought I would need additional support, which another student would not need. This is a discriminatory practice.” 

Because of her experience, McCollum collected findings on how disabled people are prevented from participating in activities in higher education because of preexisting stereotypes. McCollum brings up a specific statistic, “Almost 80% of autistic people who get a degree, do not work in that field after graduating.”  

McCollum hopes to learn more about how people view disabled people and how these views are formed to help communicate the damage being done to the disabled community. She hopes people can form a better understanding of how to accommodate disabled people’s needs, without engaging in discriminatory practices.

This story is brought to you by the  Office of Research and Graduate Studies.