Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Mark McBeth

Committee Members

Cathy N. Davidson

Stephen Brier

Subject Categories

Disability and Equity in Education | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Rhetoric and Composition


archival analysis, oral history, disability studies, disability services, literacy


The field of Disability Studies has long committed itself to the project of making American colleges and universities more accessible places for disabled faculty, staff, and students. Indeed, many of the field of early ideological roots of the discipline of Disability Studies (DS) emerged from campus-based activist movements. This influence has impacted the ways DS scholars continue to frame their intellectual labor as a progressive public good. In recent years, composition/rhetoric scholars have begun applying DS approaches to questions of pedagogical and professional access as well. These critiques have drawn attention the ways teaching practice, administrative policy, and other aspects of academic life are undergirded by many of the same ableist values that pervade other professional environments.

This dissertation investigates the history of disability-related institutional work in the City University of New York across three distinct periods: I use archival analysis to discuss New York City’s unique municipal college system’s early 20th century programs, which defined disability access in terms of a medical rehabilitation model; second, I use oral history to document important institutional changes that came to CUNY (which was officially organized only in 1961) during the 1970s, when students began organizing disability activist coalitions and CUNY began institutionalizing system-wide disability services; finally, I draw from unofficial archives and further oral histories to examine the impacts of the rise in learning and other invisible disabilities in CUNY in the 1980s and 90s. This history demonstrates both the complex problem of designing equitable programs for disability access, and the generative possibilities of incorporating disability into the mainstream mission of higher education.