Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Barriers to Higher Education for Students with Bipolar Disorder: A Critical Social Model Perspective

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Abstract:  Employing some of the features of participatory research methodology, a disabled faculty joins a student with mental health diagnosis to examine the factors that hinder or enable success for this group. The theoretical framework or scholarly bearings for the study comes from the critical social model of disability, disability services scholarship in the United States, and education theory literature on “student success”. With a particular focus on students with bipolar disorder, the article highlights the gaps in disability scholarship on this specific group while underscoring the oppression experienced by them through the inclusion of an autoethnographic segment by the primary author in this collaborative, scholarly work. The model of access, we propose, moves beyond accommodations—which are often retrofits or after the thought arrangements made by an institution—and asks for environmental support, social and institutional inclusion, and consideration for students with psychiatric health diagnosis. This article not only presents an array of problems in the United States academy but also a set of recommendations for solving these problems. Going beyond the regime of retrofit accommodations, we ask for an overhaul of institutional policies, infrastructures, and curricula so that the academy is inclusive of neurodiverse bodies and appreciates their difference.

Keywords:  academic ableism; autoethnography; bipolar disorder; critical social model; disability; disability accommodations; disclosure in higher education; psychiatric health diagnosis; retrofits; student success; students with mental disabilities


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© Allison K. Kruse, Sushil K. Oswal. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.