A DisCrit-Informed Critique of the Difference vs. Disorder Approach in Speech-Language Pathology

A DisCrit-Informed Critique of the Difference vs. Disorder Approach in Speech-Language Pathology

Betty Yu, Laura Epstein, Vivian Tisi
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7134-7.ch006
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The disproportionate representation of students of color in special education is among the most longstanding and intractable problems in education. In this chapter, the authors examine the phenomenon of racial disproportionality through the theoretical framework of disability studies and critical race theory (DisCrit). They argue that a DisCrit-informed lens challenges the current framing of racial disproportionality in speech-language pathology as merely resulting from a failure to distinguish between differences and disorders. Rather, racial disproportionality is a predictable outcome of the institutionalized segregation of students based on perceived deviations from normative standards, a process grounded in the mutually reinforcing mechanisms of systemic ableism and systemic racism.
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Since the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights began conducting biennial surveys of elementary and secondary schools in 1968, the data has shown persistent disproportionate representation of children in special education from minoritized racial/ethnic groups, students living in poverty, and English learners in the special education system, including both over-identification and under-identification (Artiles et al., 2006; Rueda & Windmueller, 2006; Strassfeld, 2017, 2019; U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, 2020; Zhang & Katsiyannis, 2002). Despite the addition of monitoring, accountability and enforcement provisions in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004, as well as the inclusion of new and revised regulations in 2016, disproportionality trends have remained largely unchanged in the history of special education (Albrecht et al., 2012; Artiles et al., 2010; Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, 2016; Skiba et al., 2008; Strassfeld, 2017, 2019). Racial disproportionality in special education has been described as one of the most durable inequalities in American society (Ferri & Connor, 2005; Voulgarides et al., 2017; Zhang et al., 2014), a display of the lasting legacy of racial and educational segregation more than 60 years following the passage of Brown v. Board of Education (1954).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Hegemony: Dominance of one group over another through the imposition of norms and ideas.

DisCrit: A shortened term for Disability Studies and Critical Race Theory coined by Annamma et al. (2016) to capture how conceptions of normality are upheld by the interdependency of racism and ableism.

Disproportionality: The over-representation and/or under-representation of minoritized students identified for special education, compared to their percentage in the overall population.

Epistemology: The study of how a body of belief is structured and justified.

Praxeology: The study of human action or of a particular practice.

Marginalizing: Relegating a person or a group to insignificance or unimportance.

Ableism: Ableism is the discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that abilities that are culturally defined as typical are superior.

Critical Race Theory: A tradition of scholarship that critically examines the expression of institutionalized racism by culturally dominant groups.

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