School of Education News

Article from UW-Madison’s Nachman appears in Community College Journal of Research and Practice

January 28, 2019

UW-Madison’s Brett Nachman is the lead author on a new research paper that explains how community college websites often omit depictions of autism — or may even portray it in a medicalized, negative or dehumanizing light.

The article appears in the Community College Journal of Research and Practice, and is titled, “Omission and Othering: Constructing Autism on Community College Websites.”

Nachman is a doctoral student with the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. The report is co-authored with Kirsten Brown, a research faculty member with Edgewood College’s educational leadership doctoral program.

Nachman explains that this work is especially important to him as someone with Asperger’s and who attended community college.

The paper’s abstract begins: “Students with autism attend two-year colleges at a significantly greater rate than four-year institutions. As these prospective and current students engage with two-year colleges, websites are an important digital platform to assess inclusivity and campus climate. The digital environment is particularly important because many autistic individuals prefer to engage in written communication.”

In explaining the research project, the abstract continues: “We employed a critical content analysis to understand the digital campus climate at public two-year colleges (n = 94) by analyzing website content that colleges use to describe autism.”

The researchers found that the “digital campus climate was unwelcoming for the vast majority of prospective and current students with autism. Autism was omitted from 29.8 percent of institutional websites. Colleges located in the eastern or western areas of the United States had lower rates of omission. When references to autism were present, website content used medical and legal language to depict autistic students as deficient..”

The abstract concludes by noting that “institutional websites othered students by objectifying autism and using volunteer or charity work to frame autism as outside of normalcy. Text written by autistic people (students, alumni, staff, or organizations) was absent from all but one institutions’ website. Implications for practitioners include addressing institutionalized ableism by modifying websites to include autism-specific content, removing deficit narratives, and amplifying autistic agency by including material written by autistic individuals.”

To learn more and for information on how to download the report, visit this web page.

To obtain a pdf of the report, email Nachman at:

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