Jeffrey Whitman offers his perspective on physical disability and how it affects his teaching. He notes that, while accessibility laws and building codes are meant to ensure that students with disabilities are on equal footing as their able-bodied peers, they are frequently not enough. He stresses the importance of collaborating with students with disabilities instead of assuming their needs. Ultimately, while abled-bodied people may think that the “view from a wheelchair” is drastically different from their own, Whitman reveals that there are more similarities than differences.
Jeffrey Whitman was a professor of philosophy at Susquehanna University. Whitman taught courses in war theory, bioethics, and resolving moral conflicts. In 1998, he received the John C. Horn Award for Distinguished Scholarship and Creative Activity.
1. How can universities better support students with disabilities?
2. What does Dr. Whitman mean when he says that “the view from a wheelchair” is the same view all of us share? How can you expand your perspective to be more empathetic to those who may face challenges that are different from your own?
With a partner, walk around your building and its immediate surrounding area. Think about how the building is designed, or not designed, to improve access. Consider the following:
Take notes on what you find and make suggestions for improving or maintaining the accessibility of the building and its area.
Jeff Whitman taught at Susquehanna University from 1995-2019. This was his second career. He came to SU after spending 20 years in the United States Army, including a stint teaching at his alma mater, the US Military Academy at West Point. Throughout his time at SU, he used a wheelchair. Early on, the university scrambled just to make sure he could enter a classroom. Now, every public building on campus is accessible with an electric door and at least one handicap bathroom due in no small part to his advocacy.
Jeff was frequently impatient with people who thanked him for his service. He dismissed such gestures as “disability porn”—most often done to make the speaker feel better but doing little to address the real challenges facing veterans or the disabled community. With swagger and irreverence, Jeff preferred the company of those who could see him whole: who laughed at his jokes and challenged his ideas.
As you consider this essay, think carefully about Martha Nussbaum’s notion of “moral luck.” Jeff uses this to argue for the necessity of both taking risks and depending on others.
Jeff passed away in September of 2020. I lost not only a husband but also a deeply respected colleague. I am grateful for the opportunity to share his voice with the SU community one more time.
Susquehanna University is committed to working with students who have disabilities by providing reasonable and adequate accommodations. Our director of disability services works with students to develop self-advocacy skills and provides guidance to assisting students with disabilities.