Recognizing Ableism in Educational Initiatives: Reading between the Lines


special education
disability studies

How to Cite

Timberlake, M. (2020). Recognizing Ableism in Educational Initiatives: Reading between the Lines. Research in Educational Policy and Management, 2(1), 84-100.


The ubiquity of ableism in education policy requires being increasingly alert to the portrayal of, (including the absence of), disability within educational initiatives. Ableism is a form of oppression, a largely unconscious acceptance of able-bodied norms from the inaccessibility of instructional materials, to assumptions about the body (a healthy body is within one’s control) to the acceptance of segregated settings. In response to the call for this special issue, previous qualitative inquiry into the unintended consequences of three educational reforms were synthesized using critical disability theory.  Seemingly disparate at first glance, all three initiatives, while ostensibly increasing equity, also contained ableism that reinforced stereotypes about student variability and served to further isolate disabled students. One federal (Alternate Assessment), one state (CCSS modules), and one local (project-based learning) policy implementation are included in this theoretical analysis. Reading between the lines means being alert to ableism, and is essential to prevent the historical marginalization of students with disabilities from continuing within contemporary “progress”.