Australian Tertiary Education Network on Disability

Pathways15: Inclusion in higher education? The changing terrain of disability advocacy and scholarship

Ben Whitburn, Deakin University

The phrase 'Nihil de nobis sine nobis' (Nothing about us without us) has resonated through disability activism and scholarship since the 1990s (Charlton, 1998). While enrolments of students with disabilities in higher education have unquestionably increased over time, if we were to critically reflect on the historical account of inclusion in the sector, we would note that plenty goes on without input from the diverse voices of those who live with disabilities.

The argument I put forward in this presentation is that the conceptual tools, activist phrases and human rights instruments continually and comfortably referenced in the pursuit for inclusion in higher education may have reached the limitations of their utility. Drawing on recently published and ongoing work in the temporalities of inclusion (Whitburn & Thomas, 2020) and the role of higher education in inclusive employability, the purpose is to advance a manifesto (McMaster & Whitburn, 2019) for reframing the ways the sector responds to disability. As institutions of higher education re-acclimatise to their renewed relevance to local and global communities in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ways that they provide the conditions for inclusion—how they conceptualise, practice, educate and research disability must accordingly be addressed.


Dr Ben Whitburn is Senior Lecturer in Inclusive Education and director of the Masters of Specialist Inclusive Education at Deakin University. Dr Whitburn seeks to heighten equity across educational sectors by building the capacity of educators to address breaches between theory and practice. To this end, Dr Whitburn draws on innovative and critical methodologies to develop programs in both research and teaching that are centred on the voices of those affected by disability and other intersectional diversities who are subject to ongoing inequities. These contributions to the field highlight the sociocultural role of education to inclusive development, and they also offer theoretically supported and practical redress of marginalisation based on insiders’ perspectives.