Women Faculty with Dis/ability Task Force: A Promising Practice for Faculty Equity

Date Updated

The North Dakota State University (NDSU) NSF ADVANCE team/project recognized that their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts attended too little to the unique experiences and perspectives of faculty experiencing dis/ability. In particular, the project team wanted to promote a campus commitment to address workplace and campus climate issues with respect to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) women faculty members with dis/ability. But where to begin?

Although the project team used person-first language (i.e., person or faculty member with a disability), recent scholarship invites us all to reconsider that language convention. For the NDSU NSF ADVANCE team/project community, the term dis/ability is used rather than disability as has been recommended by Annamma and colleagues who believe the '/' in disability disrupts misleading understandings of disability, as it simultaneously conveys the mixture of ability and disability (Annamma, Connor, & Ferri, 2013, p. 1). Some scholars and civil rights leaders argue that dis/ability potentially reflects a disconnect between community activists and disability studies academics (Nakamura, 2018). Others assert that avoidance of the terms 'disability' and 'disabled' may have unintended and adverse consequences by suggesting that the identification of someone as disabled is automatically considered negative; rather, the focus should be on ensuring the rights of people in this demographic group as reflected in the #SaytheWord movement, a social media call to embrace disability identity (Andrews et al., 2019, p. 1).

After investigating examples of dis/ability policy and practice found at other universities, and in recognition that policy change is fundamental to institutional transformation, they determined that they needed to begin by reviewing their own institution's policies through the lens of dis/ability equity. They began by looking for organizational and campus practices likely to result in dis/ability discrimination and considered policy changes that would support the recruitment, retention, and promotion of women faculty with dis/abilities. Steps taken over a three-year period yielded a foundation for the necessary ongoing work of addressing discrimination and inequities associated with dis/ability in academic workplaces. They proceeded through the following five steps:

  • Because addressing inequities across campus was vital to the success of STEM women faculty, the ADVANCE team/project initiative deliberately engaged both STEM and non-STEM faculty. They systematically integrated areas of organizational change, including inclusive recruitment and hiring practices, establishing equitable tenure, evaluation, promotion practices, improving campus/departmental climate, supporting dual-career hires, and addressing work-life balance and tenure clock issues. The ADVANCE team/project established the Women Faculty with Disabilities (WFwD) task force. This task force was charged with identifying and modifying policy and practices that would improve the institution's recruitment, retention, and promotion of women faculty with dis/ability. Members who represented human resources, disability services, STEM and non-STEM disciplined faculty, and key administrators and staff were intentionally recruited.
  • A survey of faculty was conducted to document perceptions of policies and/or attitudes regarding dis/ability employment practices in departments and units, as well as across NDSU as a whole. The survey included questions regarding clarity of dis/ability policies and procedures and asked respondents to provide ratings regarding physical, cognitive, and psychological dis/ability separately. An Open Forum was held to review the findings with faculty and to gather additional input for consideration by the WFwD task force.
  • In consultation with other ADVANCE team/project working groups and the Faculty Senate, the WFwD task force provided recommendations for addressing several university policies, which were amended to reflect dis/ability-equitable practices. Below are examples of two policies influenced:
    • NDSU Policy 168 centralized accommodations requests to ensure consistency in the provision of accommodations for all faculty (and staff) as well as to ensure that those who have expertise in working with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and employees and units on the interactive process for determining accommodations led the discussion.
    • NDSU Policy 352 included disability in tenure-clock extension requests and improved the process so that these requests are made directly to the Provost bypassing departments and colleges to ensure consistency but also to prevent any biases in the reviews by limiting who has access to information on personal matters (illness, disability, parenting status, etc.).
  • NDSU ADVANCE team/project supported a range of campus-wide dis/ability awareness activities oriented to students, staff, faculty, and administration and included outreach to the wider community. The task force also hosted a series of working meetings and faculty professional development sessions with visiting scholar and dis/abilities activist Margaret Price.
  • Publications arising from the work of the task force included a preliminary report on examples of dis/ability policy and practice found in other universities, supports available to faculty with dis/abilities at NDSU, a faculty disability survey report, and a book chapter describing a critical and intersectional disability studies–based faculty professional development approach designed to further institutional transformation (Anicha, Ray, & Bilen-Green, 2017).

Establishing a task force to review institutional policies through the lens of dis/ability equity is a promising practice in addressing the workplace and campus climate needs of STEM women faculty with dis/ability it can lay a foundation for (re)iteratively revisiting and addressing discrimination and inequities associated with dis/ability in academic workplaces.

Visit the ADVANCE team/project site for resources including a summary of data collected by the faculty survey, the Faculty Forum presentation of the data, and slides from Dr. Price’s presentations.


Andrews, E. E., Forber-Pratt, A. J., Mona, L. R., Lund, E. M., Pilarski, C. R., & Balter, R. (2019). #SaytheWord: A disability culture commentary on the erasure of “disability.” Rehabilitation Psychology, 64(2), 111-118.

Anicha, C. L., Ray, C. M., & Bilen-Green, C. (2017). Working it Backwards: Student Success through Faculty Professional Development. In E. Kim &. K. C. Aquino (Eds.), Disability as Diversity in Higher Education: Policies and Practices to Enhance Student Success (pp. 122-137). New York, NY: Routledge.

Annamma, S. A., Connor, D., & Ferri, B. (2013). Dis/ability critical race studies (DisCrit): Theorizing at the intersections of race and dis/ability. Race Ethnicity and Education, 16(1), 1-31.

Nakamura, K. (2018). Disability Studies as White Disability Studies / Disability Studies as Intersectional Disability Studies. Haas Institute Disability Studies Cluster Research to Impact Series [Othering & Belonging Institute Videotaped Talk]. Berkeley, CA: University of California.