Archival Artistry: Exploring Disability Aesthetics in Late Twentieth Century Higher Education


  • Lauren Beard The Pennsylvania State University



Jay Dolmage’s (2014) Disability Rhetoric encourages scholars to search beyond normative Aristolean bounds of rhetoric and embrace a critical lens of rhetorical activity as embodied, and disability as an inalienable aspect of said embodiment (p. 289). To that end, this project posits an innovative structure for rhetorically (re)analyzing disability history in higher education through a framework of disability aesthetics. In Academic Ableism, Jay Dolmage (2017) argues that an institution’s aesthetic ideologies and architecture denote a rhetorical agenda of ableism. In Disability Aesthetics, Tobin Siebers (2010) asserts disability is a vital aspect of aesthetic interpretation. Both works determine that disability has always held a crucial, critical role in the production and consumption of aestheticism, as it invites able-bodied individuals to consider the dynamic, nonnormative instantiations of the human body as a social, civic issue (p. 2). Disability, therefore, has the power to reinvigorate the sociorhetorical impact of both aesthetic representation and the human experience writ large. With this framework in mind, this project arranges an archival historiography of disability history in higher education in the late twentieth century at a mid-sized U.S. state institution. During this time, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act was finally signed into law, and universities confronted a legal demand to allow all students access. Ultimately, this project seeks to demonstrate how disability scholars and historiographers can widen the view of both disability history and disability rhetoric in higher education through a focus on student aesthetic performance and intervention.

Author Biography

Lauren Beard, The Pennsylvania State University

The Pennsylvania State University



How to Cite

Beard, L. (2020). Archival Artistry: Exploring Disability Aesthetics in Late Twentieth Century Higher Education. Canadian Journal of Disability Studies, 9(5), 75–95.