Writing Reference Letters for People with Disabilities

(Inside Higher Ed) – Even just mentioning a disability can be a red flag, writes Michele Cooke, who offers some guidelines. 

Reference letter–writing season is upon us, and you may be wondering how to approach writing about the disabilities of students and colleagues you are recommending. Letters of reference are critical components of admissions, hiring and promotion. But because letter readers tend to read between the lines, even just mentioning a disability can be a red flag, as Amy Vidali, an associate professor at the University of Colorado at Denver, has noted.

As a part-deaf full professor who has navigated her entire career with a disability, I’ve been on all sides of the desk. I’ve been the mentee cringing at the misrepresentation of my disability, I’ve been the mentor wondering how to frame my mentee’s skills in the best light and I’ve been the letter reader assessing strengths and weaknesses. Here, I offer some suggestions.

You should never disclose someone’s disability without their approval. Even if someone has a visible disability, the letter readers may not yet have met your mentee. Please don’t presume that disclosing disability benefits candidates because “the committee likes to see disability for diversity.” Committees committed to equity are still vulnerable to the pervasive ableism that drives discrimination and harassment of people with disabilities within academe and our society. Admissions and hiring committees are much more likely to admit/hire an abled person.  Read more. 

 

Credit:  This Week in Accessibility by Brianna Blaser