Disability in academia: early thoughts

I am roughly 2/3 of the way through my interviews with disabled academics. So far I have a pretty even split across disciplines and a mixture of ECRs and established academics. Most of my participants are women (so far) and few mid-career academics (again so far). Although I still have a number of interviews to complete, a few people have been asking what my early findings are and so I thought I would consider the emerging themes.

Disability covers such a broad range of ‘impairments’ that there is no one experience of being a disabled academic. However, there are a few shared issues. The first one is fatigue. Being disabled is akin to having a second job. Many interviewees have reported the considerable effort involved in securing even basic reasonable adjustments. The paperwork, appeals, phone calls, meetings are all exhausting and are in themselves a full-time job. This is on top of the fatigue which comes from ‘impairments’ for example, taking longer than non-disabled colleagues to read a paper, undertake marking, write a paper. As a number of people have said to me, we are all overworked, and disabled academics more so.

Fatigue can have an effect on other aspects of academic life, for example, networking. Conferences are pretty tiring things! But when managing the effects of travel, presenting a paper, physically negotiating getting into the venue, a conference dinner or chatting over wine can be more than many people can tolerate. For some people the nature of their ‘impairment’ can make the academic chit chat and socialising difficult if not impossible and some academics worry that the lack of opportunity for collaboration and network building may hold back their careers.

For some academics, they experience a sudden loss of support when they make the move from student to staff member, or taught to research student. Disability services may (or may not) cater for academics, but whether they have the resources and knowledge to be able to provide reasonable adjustments is questionable. This combined with an apparent lack of understanding of disability amongst PhD supervisors, line managers and colleagues can make securing reasonable adjustments difficult. One example is parking spaces, where disabled academics reported unsatisfactory arrangements made by employers, which can prevent an academic being able to access their offices.

The increasing pressures of paperwork, online learning and workload are affecting disabled academics. The rapid turnaround of coursework to satisfy perceived NSS needs impacts those with large classes or difficulty with aspects of the work such as reading. While the VLE can provide accessibility for staff and students, it can also be an exclusionary aspect of work for those who struggle with mouse or screen use.

Many of these problems are the result of lack of thought or unconscious bias, however, some interviewees have reported distressing examples of harassment, offensive and exclusionary language and disability focussed critiques in student assessments. For some academics, this overt discrimination exacerbated existing problems and was associated with mental health crises.

There are some positive stories though! Examples include accessibility maps for campuses, workload reductions, disability working groups feeding into university policy, strong efforts from the UCU and supportive line managers. Much of this seems to depend on particular actors having personal experience of disability themselves or disabled family members. This has implications for continuity of support when a line manager moves on.

These are just some early thoughts – not coherent yet, or fully analysed. There is more to explore around the role of the body in academic work, how these discriminations write themselves on our bodies. Does the nature of the academic work prohibit the accommodation of certain ‘impairments’? Participants generally seemed to think so. I need to unpick these ideas much more. But for now, that’s some preliminary findings!

Why I marched #WomensMarch

Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend the Women’s March in Edinburgh which was a standing protest in solidarity with the main demonstration in Washington DC. Thousands of people crammed into a tiny street to come together and show support for women in the US and express their concerns and fears for the new Administration. A 16 year old (now 17) arranged the whole event with the help of a friend and pulled it off. Women and men came from over Scotland, plus a few political dogs. As a white woman I am fortunate enough to have little concern that the police will target me, but still, I was glad to see how friendly the police were and how good natured the event was. I met women on the bus, in the street, identifiable by our PussyHats. There was a palpable sense of shared purpose.

Why did I attend a protest in Edinburgh over Donald Trump, the new US President?  There is a clear link in Trump’s golf course and associated activities here, of course. But it is bigger than that. Trump is one man. Not a particularly eloquent, nice or principled man admittedly, but one man. He symbolises the broader move to the far right. He used the language of Brexit, Le Pen, Farage and their kind, to fuel hatred of migrants, disabled people and women. He boasted about sexual assault. He mocked a disabled reporter. He harassed and stalked his opponent. I went to the protest because I feared what is to come. I felt alone in my fear and certain that there was no concerted will to stop the march to fascism, which is by no means inevitable.

The Edinburgh protest was small in comparison to others, but no less powerful for it. After my customary hot drink and lunch I went home to watch the Washington march. I saw women of colour, disabled women, trans* women, indigenous women, labour activists, celebrities, academics and women of all faiths speak. I saw women occupy the public spaces we are harassed and abused in. I saw women come together, with men, and shout their support for a better, kinder tomorrow which is full of love. I saw women say ‘No’ to the attacks on our bodies, our reproductive rights, our access to education, safe drinking water, the destruction of eco-systems and the demands we be silenced by accepting the various votes/referendums. We took up space. We made noise and women were the first to respond to the Trump inauguration. Over 4 million women globally said ‘this will not stand’.

There is plenty to reflect on. Why were white women (including me) not quicker to listen to the warnings of women of colour? Why were marches not more accessible for disabled people? Will the momentum continue and will white women now lend our minds, energies and bodies to the demands for clean drinking water, Black Lives Matter, indigenous land protection, the protection and welcome of migrants? I thought people were better than voting for Trump or Brexit. But women of colour know different. They have seen the poisonous combination of racism and sexism which pervades organisations, employers, communities. The Women’s March has potential to be better, of course. But I went to bed last night with hope. Hope that we will not stand and let fascism take over. That I am not alone in my fears and hopes for a better future. That hope is powerful.  Progressive women came together yesterday and made our voices heard. We stood with men and talked, shared ideas, showed kindness to those alone, cared for those who needed help and sang happy birthday to a 17 year old who bought over 3000 people together in Edinburgh. We stood in joy and hope, and showed what is possible. I believe now that the future can be bright, and that we can find solidarity across difference.

Trump – some thoughts

As the USA went to bed with awful news, much of the rest of the world woke up to it. For those of us in the UK it probably wasn’t too much of a surprise. After Brexit it became clear that people will engage in acts of self-destruction, in the face of waves of evidence of the likely devastation of that act. We are early on in the news cycle and we don’t seem to know too much. However, it does seem that the world can thank white voters, male and female, for this outcome. This seemingly can’t be blamed on white working class voters – the polling (if accurate) suggests that white graduates voted in droves for a racist, transphobic, xenophobic, proud sexual abuser. Yet many are surprised. Surprised  white women would be active participants in the (re)production of white male supremacy. But how can we be surprised? My own work has shown that women actively reproduce the patriarchy, even when it is to their detriment. White women then also have an interest in preserving white supremacy. I am more surprised at the high numbers of Latino men and women voting for Trump. I am sure work will be done to understand why. Maybe many hope to be in a position to benefit from Trump’s promised tax cuts. Maybe a lot of votes were cast while there were spurious allegations made about emails last week.

So what are we left with? As a woman I feel personally hurt and bruised to see a confessed serial abuser of women, a gross specimen of masculinity who derides, degrades and assaults women, elected to this highest office. As a woman I fear for poorer women in the US who will lose out with the defunding of Planned Parenthood. I fear for those who need access to abortions. I fear for trans people, forced to use a particular toilet. I fear for men and women of colour. As a disabled person I am disgusted that a man who mocked a disabled person, for being disabled, can be elected to such a position of influence. I fear for the rest of the world, and what this signals about the revealing and celebration of the underbelly of white male supremacy which our economies are built on. I am scared for the environment, for biodiversity, for indigenous people, and for the future of all the life on this planet we share.

In the face of this fear, where can I (or we) find hope and comfort? Today perhaps we need to grieve. That grief will be the start of the healing and the way forward. I don’t want to see so called Lefties (men) blaming Hillary Clinton. Or working class people. We need to recognise and confront the racism at play here. I tweeted that we need self-care. Eat as well as we can, exercise our bodies and minds to make them as strong as we are able (if we are able), breathe deeply, and reach out to those we love. We must support the self-care of others, by creating space and time for other vulnerable groups to heal. Then we must join together. Find commonality across these traditional political divisions. Reach out to climate change activists, across communities. We must recognise that sexism, disablism, heterosexism and racism are not independent forms of oppression, but inextricably linked. From solidarity and love within and across communities, perhaps we can create a line of defense against the horror that’s coming.

Oh, and remind ourselves, that history was made last night/today. The world’s first President Fart?

Updated: Call for interviewees: Experiences of disabled academics

While there has been considerable work exploring the role of gender on academic careers, and some steps towards understanding race and class, disability remains notable for its absence from the literature. I have been awarded two small grants, the first from the EPSRC career acceleration fund and a second from an Internal Research Grant, both from Heriot-Watt University to research the experiences of disabled academics in Engineering and Physical Sciences, Social Sciences and Humanities. The project will begin in January, with data collection in January and February. This is an early call for potential interview participants based in the UK. The interviews will occur face to face (for those in Edinburgh or nearby) or via Skype/telephone. I would like to interview UK based disabled academics across the career span (PhD students, ECR, mid-career and more established academics). For the purpose of this research disability is taken to be: ‘a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities’ (taken from the Equality Act, 2010).

If you are unable to participate in an interview, the questions can be answered via this survey link 

Or please email me ( for the questions as a word document which you can complete at your own pace and return via email.

All interview transcripts will be anonymised to protect the identities of individuals and employing institutions. I anticipate interviews lasting between 40 and 60 minutes, covering career history, the impact of disability and recommendations for employers. The interviews will be used to inform a report for Heriot-Watt University and (hopefully!) resulting publications. The project has secured ethical approval. Data will be securely stored, with raw data only available to me and the professional transcriber.

Please share this  call with your colleagues across the Humanities, Social Sciences and Engineering and Physical Sciences (including those eligible to apply for EPSRC funding in other disciplines), and with colleagues in other disciplines.

If you would like to participate (or hear the findings) please contact me at


IPED Call for Papers – #Intersectionality and #ClimateChange

Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Equality and Diversity (fully OA) is seeking submissions on intersectionality and climate change. We particularly welcome explorations of how categories of difference (e.g. gender, race, class, disability, indigeneity, LGBTQI) intersect to inform out understanding of the effects of climate change, and efforts to mitigate such effects. 

We welcome papers in English, German, French, and Thai. We may be able to accept papers in other languages (including American/British/International sign language) – please contact me (Kate for further information.

The full call for papers can be seen here

IPED seeks to challenge dominant paradigms of research, including drawing on theories outside the Western canon and alternative forms of presenting research.

Please share with your contacts. 

With best wishes


Making a case for migration

I began writing this blog post two weeks ago – since then events have taken a dramatic and desperately sad turn. These are fairly rambled thoughts, hopefully some coherence will happen over time.

5th June: This morning I wrote a tweet asking for someone prominent to make the case for migration, rather than assume that the movement of people is in itself a problem. Naturally this drew the attention of just the sort of person you think. Thankfully just one person who drew the distinction between ‘good’ migration and ‘bad’ (uncontrolled) migration. Normally when I tweet about migration I get much more of this, but I guess a Sunday morning is too early for the anti-migration folks. Migration is a key topic for political discourse, especially at the moment in the increasingly awful EU referendum. Migration (or more precisely, migrants) has become the hot topic for those pushing for ‘Leave’. I find it curious given the levels of non-EU migration to the UK, leaving the EU strikes me as not a good way to control migration; if that’s your thing. With one exception, all the Brexit arguments I have heard in real-life conversations have focussed on migration. ‘We can stop those Syrians coming here’ etc. There is a clear underpinning idea that migration is bad and needs to be stopped.

My own research focusses on the experiences of highly-skilled migration, rather than the benefits or drawbacks of migration to countries, communities or organisations. However, I believe there is a case for migration, even for more migration. There are clear economic benefits of migration, and I am less interested in those. However, if you’re interested the OECD has set these out.  I am uncomfortable with perpetuating the idea that a human being’s worth is linked to their economic activity. Within the university sector there are disciplines who need the input of migrant academics. International students (who Theresa May seems to have taken a personal dislike to) bring money to the HE sector, as well as spending their money in the communities they live in. There is a tension for me given my belief that university should be free of tuition fees from UG to PhD. However, I can’t deny the importance of international (non EU) students to the financial position of  many business and management schools.

Migration also brings social and cultural benefits. This pilot study illustrates the perceived cultural benefits of migration to Scotland. The report suggests that migration brings new trade opportunities, but also Scotland benefits from the ideas, skills and arts which migrants share when they live here. I am sure that many of who work in HE can discuss how our teaching is enriched by working with students from different countries. On a less formal (but equally important note), our food consumption is heavily influenced by migration. In the UK this is obviously a product of a colonial (and therefore violent) past/present.

Despite the economic and cultural benefits of migration, I am wary of discussing migration in terms of what it does for the host/destination country. I worry this reinforces a discourse of good versus bad migration/migrants. When migration is discussed the experiences of the people involved is forgotten. Sometimes that we are talking about human beings gets forgotten. There is talk of swarms, floods of migrants – dehumanising language which hides the individual reasons for migration. Distinctions are drawn between deserving migrants (refugees fleeing war) and undeserving migrants (economic migrants). As if fleeing poverty is a less legitimate reason for migrating than fleeing for your life. Such narratives chime with the discourse used to distinguish between the deserving and undeserving poor

21st June: Since I wrote the first half of this blog post, the EU referendum and political discourse in the UK has taken a further step towards the worst of the worst. Nigel Farage (whose prominence bewilders me) stood in front of this poster with strong echoes of Nazi propaganda. He refuses to apologise for the poster and his connection to it, although other members of Leave have expressed some displeasure. Leave is largely focusses on migration still, and I’ve still not heard a person I know give a reason for Leave other than migration. Then last week an event I have struggled to find words for happened. A young MP, Jo Cox, was murdered outside her constituency surgery. I wasn’t particularly aware of Jo Cox, but I wish I had been. Of course, there is no straight line between Jo Cox’s murder and the current political climate. However, it is hard to see that there is no connection.


Why I will join the strike action

On the 25th and 26th of May (next week) UCU members have been asked to participate in a two day strike, which starts a period of working to rule. While very few of us *want* to strike, I will be participating and this is why.

What are we striking about? Pay, at least that’s the headline. A 1.1% offer – this is the final offer from employers – although, for those at the lower ends of the national pay scales, the rise will be bigger, around 3%. Within this mix is the continued gender pay gap, and the casualisation of employment in the sector. UCU, EIS and Unite have declined the offer, with UCU balloting (successfully) for strike action and action short of a strike.

The employers’ response and perspectives can be seen here – the arguments seem to amount to (and I’m paraphrasing here!):

  1. half of us will get an increment this year so the pay rise is actually about 4% – but increments are not payrises, they are progression on a scale (up to a point) to recognise experience
  2. Lots of other people are badly paid, and so be grateful for what you have

As an academic I am paid well, relative to the rest of the working population. I can’t (and won’t ) deny that. I am also well paid relative to many staff in universities. However, while the cost of living is going up, my pay has not kept up. I am in my late 30’s and due to years of precarious work am unable to afford to buy a flat. So I am stuck in the rental cycle, where my rent is 2 or 3 times what a mortgage would be. If I move for a new job, or because the landlords have decided to take the flat back, I lose the savings I have managed to build up. (Poor me, being able to save, I know).

So I am a person of relative privilege – I have a good job, with a ‘permanent’ contract. But when did we decide that we should race to the bottom. That other people’s pay is worse than those in HE, is not a convincing argument for us to accept a pay offer which pushes down our real income. (Note the context of increased pension contributions). Hey everyone has it much worse than you, so put up with it and be grateful. And don’t ask what the principals and VCs get paid – because that’s not relevant here.

I want to be able to concentrate on my teaching and research and not worry about rent, bills or whether I need to think about securing another source of income. As the situation stands we have the support of the students’ union, who recognise that staff in all roles in the university are key to a good student experience. But we are tired, and some of us are in worse positions than others. I will be striking, not only for more pay for all of us, but also because I find the attitude towards our worsening working conditions a disgrace. This will only worsen with the increased use of metrics, being imposed without a hint of evidence based policy/practice. The sector is under attack, a politically  motivated attack.

Yes, of course, relative to others academics are better off. But we don’t have to race to the bottom. We don’t have to accept lower pay just because we are in the public services (if Universities really count as that). We all deserve economic security, a home, a fulfilling job and a life outside of that job. So I’m striking to show my opposition to  the totality of our worsening experience, for the treatment of students as consumers (rather than members of our academic communities), for the casualised staff who worry if they can pay their rent, for professional services staff who deserve better and because I believe if we stand together we can create a better environment for all staff and students within HE.

If you’re not UCU, come and show support on the picket line or social media. A cup of tea, a honked car horn or a hello are always appreciated (there’s a good chance it will rain, so that cup of tea would be the best!).


Prince. Artist, cultural influence, social justice campaigner

This blog is a work in progress, as I’m adding and editing as I go.

On Thursday I was finally on the train home from working in Leeds for the day. My train was delayed because someone had been hit by a train near Peterborough. I sat on the platform at York reflecting on the impact one person’s death can have, as I saw trains cancelled and severely delayed. Finally on the train I was checking Twitter for updates on the journey’s progress, when I saw someone tweet that Prince’s death had yet to be confirmed. Just the day before I had been driving home when the radio told me that Victoria Wood had died. That was the first time that a celebrity death had upset me sufficiently to wonder if I should drive. Victoria Wood was a cultural commentator whose medium was comedy. The next day another genius died – Prince. I had to put my ‘phone away on the train as I knew I would get upset if it were confirmed.

I grew up with Prince as a soundtrack to my teen years. It’s hard to say what I liked so much about him then. I didn’t find him attractive, but did find him sexy. I came to Prince towards the end of his peak time – or at least where he was most popular. Diamonds and Pearls was the album which got me into Prince. It didn’t take me long to notice how prominent women were in the Prince musical universe. Not as decoration, but at its core. Women were in the band, playing instruments I don’t think I knew women could play.  He wrote about sex with women. Not as something he did to women, but as a mutual act where women’s pleasure was central to his own. Although his relationship to women was no doubt problematic in places, he was known for supporting women artists and journalists.

Since his death there have been numerous commentaries on what Prince meant to black (American) men, with his gender play. Prince wore  high-heels and make-up while he sang about a woman he met ‘in a hotel lobby‘. He played with feminity while displaying a hyper-heterosexual masculinity. It has been argued that Prince celebrated gender fluidity at time when societal attitudes towards LGBTQ people were rather different. More recently Prince’s personal attitudes towards the LGBTQ communities have come under scrutiny, but what seems clear is that the gender play, merging of the male and female and his open exploration of sex were important to many who felt marginalised in their own lives.

Prince has also been commended for his explicit discussion of racial politics. It was no accident that Prince chose to write ‘Slave’on his face when he was fighting Warner for control of his creative output. More recently Prince carried on this debate, warning new-comers to his craft about the contracts they may be forced to sign. At the time of ‘Symbol’ I appreciated its mix of the male and female, but I didn’t appreciate the racial politics of the name change, or the dynamics of the cultural production. As I understand it (and I may be wrong) Warner effectively owned Prince’s name. Although he was mocked at the time for changing his name, it was a clever move. But it also strikes me a political move, when America’s racial politics are considered. Following the resolution of the Warner dispute, Trifonas (2003: 132) recalls Prince describing Lenny Kravitz as ‘He’s still on the plantation. He’s down south, I’m up north’. Just as in his lyrics, Prince was drawing on the politics of race – only this time to describe the politics and economics of cultural production within the music industry.

There is more to say, with time for reflection, but I wonder what can be learned from Prince’s creative process and his insistence on total control over the outputs. He was a pioneer of online music through his own store, but is not available to stream. He sought to retain entire control over his own creative process and output, and although this may not have guaranteed quality, he would seem to have maintained creative integrity.  Prince’s actions have been argued to be significant in countering the exploitation in the creative industries. I hope that whoever has control of Prince’s estate respects his creative process and integrity, and doesn’t release the 100 or so albums worth of material in his archive. To do so would be a naked attempt at making money, while being contra to the desires of the creator of the material.

I am not 100% convinced that research is part of the creative or cultural industries (or that it should be), but I wonder what academia would look like if we as authors retained control over our own work. We hand over control at various stages. When we send something to a journal we craft the output for that journal. Sometimes we change content and focus to satisfy reviewers; to the extent that our final paper looks radically different. We then sign over copyright to publishers – some allow us to put OA versions on website and institutional repositories, others don’t. We work for institutions which own or share our intellectual property. Of course our work is different – it is subject to peer review to preserve quality – at least that’s the idea. I wonder how much is lost through that process. How many radical ideas are abandoned because they challenge the canon. We now have the opportunity to self-publish, as Prince did, but this doesn’t add to our careers. How much of intellectual and creative integrity is lost through these processes?

While we can’t all own our own studios, online stores, and turn up to work dressed head-to-toe in purple – perhaps we can learn something from Prince. Not just to speak out against inequality, consider the welfare of the non-human animals we share the world with, be generous with our time and to be fabulous at all times. Maybe we can also think about how to retain creative integrity and control, so that our work says what we want it to say.

Peter Pericles Trifonas. (2003). Pedagogies of difference: Rethinking education for social change. Psychology Press.