Academics and disability: An examination of the academic experience of disability policy in higher education

  • Sally Jayne Hewlett

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis uses critical realist methodology to analyse the experience of academics of providing support for students with disabilities. It is presented in the context of a global rise in the numbers of students declaring a disability. In England, the government response to this increase has been to reduce state funding for students and confer more responsibility for inclusive practices on to individual universities, citing the social model of disability. Using two critical realist frameworks to analyse the experiences of academics, this thesis explores how far the institutions’ responsibilities have fallen on to individual lecturers, how the current culture of support impacts students with disabilities, and how effective the social model is as a policy for including students with disabilities in a marketised higher education sector. The concept of a ‘site of enablement’ is developed to describe the ideal systems, structures and practices in institutions that assure equality and inclusion for persons with disabilities. A laminated critical realist framework analyses the potential site of enablement at two universities through qualitative interviews of academics, to reveal hidden structural obstacles to inclusive equality that would not come to light through the learner-centred social model approach of current policy. This research is important because it provides an alternative framework within which to analyse equality and inclusion in institutions and foregrounds the academic voice as a significant source of knowledge of absences in the potential site of enablement of universities.
Date of Award12 Oct 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorAndrea Abbas (Supervisor) & Simon Hayhoe (Supervisor)


  • Disability
  • Disability policy
  • Critical Realism
  • Higher Education
  • Bhaskar
  • academic values
  • academics
  • disability support
  • social model

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