The Better Way: Disabled Students Navigating Self-Advocacy in Postsecondary Education

Emunah Woolf (she/they)

(Sponsored by the UMD President’s Commission on Disability Issues)


The student self-advocacy literature commonly claims that although self-advocacy is a skill that disabled students require to succeed in postsecondary education, many students experience significant ‘skills-deficits’ in this area. This qualitative research project at a Canadian university sought to intervene in this literature by proposing opportunities to ‘politicize’ self-advocacy. Interviews with 11 disabled students revealed a perception of an institutionally endorsed ‘right way’ to self-advocate. This presentation will briefly explore this ‘right way’ and then turn our attention to disabled students’ ‘better way’ of negotiating self-advocacy and disability on campus. This was a form of resistance to these ableist expectations and ‘politicizes’ self-advocacy by recognizing ableism and the harms of the self-advocacy model, affirming disabled student knowledge and community, and enacting their visions for institutional change. Vital to this politicization is moving away from nondisabled-led initiatives like self-advocacy training and towards alternative research and student service practices. The presentation will then discuss how this is particularly notable in the COVID-19 era where the university is shifting and creating more possibilities for students’ ‘better way’ but disability community may be more difficult to create and sustain. This right way/better way framework may allow us to look at other equity issues on campus and highlight the importance of politicizing self-advocacy in this present moment.

Presentation (PPT)


Emunah Woolf is a third-year Bachelor of Social Work student at McMaster University (Canada), disabled researcher, and community organizer. Their research focuses on politicizing disabled post-secondary student self-advocacy. They are also a co-investigator on projects leading to the creation of and research into disabled and Mad student zines and written history of the past 40 years of accessibility work at McMaster University. Emunah additionally leads a community organizing project with youth who have chronic pain and chronic illnesses.