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Research Statement

Brent C. Elder
My research critically investigates how to best support culturally diverse students with
disabilities in general education settings in low-resourced schools. Additionally, I have engaged
in research projects on transnational teacher education, disability policy, refugees with
disabilities, and intersectional disability identities. I theoretically ground my research in the
fields of disability studies, which seeks to mitigate oppression for individuals with disabilities
(Gallagher, 2006), and critical disability studies, which aims to amplify perspectives on disability
from the global South, and links disability oppression to worldwide systems of oppression (e.g.,
neo/colonialism, capitalism, globalization) (Meekosha, 2011). Currently, my research is guided
by participatory (Stanton, 2014), decolonizing (Denzin, Lincoln & Smith, 2008), and qualitative
(Bogdan & Biklen, 2007) methods. My current scholarship is divided into three areas: (a) teacher
education, (b) inclusive reform in low-resourced schools, and (c) intersectional disability
Teacher Education
My first line of research, centering on teacher education, addresses issues related to allocation of
resources and supports for inclusive education. As a former special education teacher, when
collaborating with parents and teachers in public schools, I began to see how the education
system consistently and inadequately supported students with disabilities. In the midst of those
experiences, I decided to embark on international scholarly endeavors during school breaks to
observe how teachers in the global South supported students with disabilities. This ultimately led
to my Fulbright dissertation research project entitled: The Tensions of Western Imports:
Disability and Inclusion in Kenyan Primary Education.
In my dissertation, I utilize critical disability studies to examine the intersections of disability,
poverty, and education in post-colonial Kenya. I seek to better understand the strategies that
teachers in very low-resourced schools use to include students with disabilities in their
classrooms. Primary data comes from semi-structured interviews with local stakeholders in
inclusive education (e.g., students, parents, teachers, administrators, community members).
Participants are connected to two rural primary schools and two rural special schools, each
with many known barriers to the development and sustainability of an inclusive education
system (e.g., low teacher wages, poverty, a high HIV/AIDS rate, child labor, a lack of clean
drinking water, inadequate access to healthcare). I also use school observations, memos, and
fieldnotes to supplement and contextualize interviews.
My dissertation research comes out of a 2013 project implemented in the same region of western
Kenya. In that project I conducted teacher trainings aimed at providing educators with culturally
relevant inclusive education strategies that utilized existing school resources. I have presented
the major findings at AERA and the Society for Disability Studies. I have also published this
work in the International Journal of Inclusive Education entitled: From Attitudes to Practice:
Using Inclusive Teaching Strategies in Kenyan Primary Schools (Elder, Damiani & Oswago,
Inclusive Reform in Low-Resourced Schools

A second aspect of the 2013 Kenyan teacher education project, and also a part of my current
dissertation research, is the development of inclusion committees to help guide the direction of
local inclusive practices. I have presented the findings at national and international conferences,
and they are currently under review in an article entitled: Tangible First Steps: Developing
Inclusion Committees as a Strategy to Create Inclusive Schools in Western Kenya in Disability
and the Global South (Damiani, Elder & Okongo, under review). Recognizing access to
equitable education as a universal human right supported by local and international legislation in
Kenya, this paper works within the tensions that exist between Western constructs of inclusive
education and how they are applied in post-colonial countries in the global South. When the
global South is understood as more of a concept than an actual location, the implications of this
work have transformative potential for the development of sustainable inclusive education
practices in many under-resourced schools, specifically low-resourced schools in the global
Intersectional Disability Identities
I also have several works that are published or under review that relate to refugees with
disabilities in the United States. For the last three years I have worked with local refugee
populations in Syracuse on various projects aimed at increasing access to community services,
employment, and inclusive education. In my article, Stories from the Margins: Refugees with
Disabilities Rebuilding Lives (Elder, 2015), I utilize life history interviews to uncover the
multiple and fluid identities refugees with disabilities enact at various times and circumstances. I
was invited to present this research at a national conference in 2014, and findings were
subsequently published in Societies Without Borders. Stemming from this original work with
refugees, Dr. Christine Ashby invited me to co-author a chapter for a disability studies in
education book entitled: Enacting Change from Within: Disability Studies Meets Teaching and
Teacher Preparation. For this chapter, which is in press, is entitled: The First Day of School
was the Worst Day of my Life: Best Practices in Inclusive Education for Refugee Youth with
Disabilities (Vroman & Elder, in press), we conducted semi-structured qualitative interviews
with refugee youth with disabilities. Through these interviews, refugee youth with disabilities
suggested easy-to-implement inclusive strategies grounded in their lived educational experiences
for general education teachers. This chapter represents the combination of my background as an
inclusive special education teacher in the United States and my experiences creating sustainable
inclusive education systems abroad.
I intend to expand my research agenda by further exploring issues related to teacher education,
inclusive reform in low-resourced schools, and intersectional disability identities. Future
directions I am interested in pursuing include the following:

International teacher exchange. With my myriad experiences in teacher training both in

the United States and abroad, I plan to merge those interests and apply for a grant through
the U.S. Higher Education Initiative, Higher Education for Development (HED), through
the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). My goal is to bring
teachers from the global South to low-resourced schools in the United States, and
teachers from low-resourced schools in the United States and place them in schools in the
global South, and facilitate an exchange of ideas on how to best support students with
disabilities utilizing existing school resources.

Inclusive school reform. Having come out of a fully-funded doctoral program where I
had the opportunity to explore issues related to inclusive education that were meaningful
to me, I want my future undergraduate and graduate students to have similarly rich
university experiences. I plan to apply for a grant through the Office of Special Education
Programs (OSEP) so I can fund students in programs focused on the improvement of
services and outcomes for students with disabilities, and prepare them for special
education, early intervention, and related services positions following graduation.
Receiving an OSEP grant will provide me with ample opportunity to collaborate with and
mentor students on research projects related to their grant-based experiences related to
inclusive school reform.

Intersectional disability identities. Students of color are significantly overrepresented in

special education in the United States (Ferri & Connor, 2005). I would like to further
interrogate this re-segregation of students, but specifically investigate how refugee youth
with disabilities are represented in special education in the United States. There is ample
research on American-born students of color in special education, but a marked absence
of how refugee youth with disabilities are represented in the United States special
education system. I have experience working with refugee populations, and plan to
deepen my understanding of this population by applying for a Spencer research grant.

Transnational development and exchange of inclusive educational strategies. As Ive

developed my critical disability studies thinking, I have become more aware of just how
needed low-resource inclusive strategies for teacher education are around the world. Over
80% of the worlds disabled population lives in the global South (World Health
Organization, 2003), yet people living in the global North control and create a vast
majority of university-based knowledge creation (Connell, 2011). I plan to pursue a
Fulbright scholar award to collaborate with scholars in the global South to increase the
knowledge production and dissemination of low-cost inclusive education strategies
coming out of countries underrepresented in academia.

Bogdan, R., & Biklen, S. K. (2007). Qualitative Research for Education: An Introduction to
Theories and Methods (Vol. 5). Boston, MA: Pearson.
Connell, R. (2011). Southern bodies and disability: re-thinking concepts. Third World Quarterly,
32(8), 1369-1381.
Damiani, M., Elder, B. C. & Okongo, T. O. (under review). Tangible first steps: Developing
inclusion committees as a strategy to create inclusive schools in western Kenya. Disability
and the Global South.
Denzin, N. K., Lincoln, Y. S., & Smith, L. T. (Eds.). (2008). Handbook of critical and indigenous
methodologies. Sage.
Elder, B. C. (2015). Stories from the margins: Refugees with disabilities rebuilding lives.
Societies Without Borders. 10(1).
Elder, B. C., Damiani, M., Oswago, B. (in press). From attitudes to practice: Using inclusive
teaching strategies in Kenyan primary schools. International Journal of Inclusive
Ferri, B., & Connor, D. (2005). Tools of exclusion: Race, disability, and (re) segregated
education. The Teachers College Record, 107(3), 453-474.
Gallagher, D. (2006). The natural hierarchy undone: disability studies' contributions to
contemporary debates in education. In S. D. Gabel (Ed.). Vital questions facing disability
studies in education (pp. 63-76). New York: Peter Lang.
Meekosha, H. (2011). Decolonising disability: Thinking and acting globally. Disability &
Society, 26(6), 667-682.
Stanton, C. R. (2014). Crossing methodological borders decolonizing community-based
participatory research. Qualitative Inquiry, 20(5), 573-583.
United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) (2006).
Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. Retrieved from
Vroman, K. & Elder, B. C. (in press). The first day of school was the worst day of my life:
Best practices in inclusive education for refugee youth with disabilities. In C. Ashby & M.
Cosier (Eds.) Enacting Change from Within: Disability Studies Meets Teaching and
Teacher Preparation. Peter Lang Publishing.
World Health Organization (2003). Access to rehabilitation for the 600 million people living with
disabilities. Retrieved from