Making Academia More Accessible


  • Nicole Brown UCL Institute of Education
  • Paul Thompson UCL Institute of Education
  • Jennifer S Leigh Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Kent



ableism, inclusive education, accessibility, disability, conference


Academia can be a challenging place to work and academics who have a disability, neurodiversity or chronic illness are further disadvantaged, as non-stereotypical ways of working are not necessarily supported or catered for. The remit of this paper is to provide practical ideas and recommendations to address accessibility issues in events and conferences as a first step to improving existing working conditions. We start with providing a brief overview of and background to the issues of ableism, disabilities, chronic illnesses and neurodiversities in academia. We then offer a detailed description of the organisational and developmental strategies relating to the Ableism in Academia conference to practically demonstrate how accessibility can be achieved. Despite vast literature available on theorisations of reasonable adjustments and some individual handbooks on conference accessibility, noted the absence of a systematic write-up of a case study that would demonstrate the thought processes required for the organisation of a fully accessible and inclusive event. This paper provides almost a step-by-step rationale and rundown of the decisions that had to be taken in order to facilitate an accessible event. After a brief consideration of challenges we encountered along the way, we share personal reflections regarding the event and future developments.

Author Biographies

Nicole Brown, UCL Institute of Education

UCL Institute of Education, CCM (Culture, Communication and Media)

Programme Leader for the Secondary Teacher Education Programme

Lecturer in Education

Nicole Brown is a Lecturer in Education and Academic Head of Learning and Teaching at University College London Institute of Education. Her research interests relate to advancing learning and teaching within higher education and to improving the generation of knowledge. Contact details: Web site: Twitter: @ncjbrown @FibroIdentity @AbleismAcademia

Paul Thompson, UCL Institute of Education

Paul Thompson is a Learning Technologist at University College London Institute of Education. He specialises in creating technical solutions for education and has a special interest in promoting accessibility in education. Contact details:

Jennifer S Leigh, Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Kent

Jennifer Leigh is a Lecturer in Higher Education and Academic Practice at the Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Kent. Her research focuses on reflective, creative, and embodied approaches to practice, research and teaching in higher education. Contact details: Twitter: @drschniff @AbleismAcademia


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Accessibility references
Accessibility Directory Ontario Guidelines: [accessed: 12 June 2018]
How not to plan a disability conference: [accessed: 12 June 2018]
Making Medieval Conferences More Accessible: [accessed: 12 June 2018]
Showing Up for Racial Justice Disability Justice toolkit: [accessed: 12 June 2018]
Special Interest Group on Accessible Computing Conference Guide: [accessed: 12 June 2018]
Syracuse University Inclusive events guide: [accessed: 12 June 2018]






Case Studies