Date of Award

Spring 2020

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Emilie M Reagan

Second Advisor

Andrew D Coppens

Third Advisor

Paula M Salvio


Despite efforts of educators and advocates to include students with labeled disabilities in all aspects of public education, many are segregated, deprived of interactions with peers, and offered content lacking in rigor and relevance. In one New England state, public schools have the opportunity to participate in a statewide initiative that aims to combat such exclusion, and make learning more effective for all through Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL is a pedagogical framework focused on the design of instructional materials, methods, and environments to optimize teaching and learning for all students. This ethnographic case study explores how educators applying UDL articulate ability and perform inclusive pedagogy. I draw on critical discourse analysis as an analytical framework to explore how narratives of ability and inclusivity are constructed and contested through discourse and pedagogical performances. The findings suggest that educators' process of taking up UDL caused them to question dominant narratives of ability as a static, individual attribute, as well as narratives that position inclusivity as a function of special education service provision. At the same time, there is evidence that contesting these dominant historical narratives is a messy process, and hierarchical systems embedded in schools significantly constrain attempts to enact more transformative interpretations of ability and take up a critical discourse of ability. Although UDL may hold the promise of advancing a paradigmatic shift in how ability and inclusivity play out in schools, more explicit engagement with these indefinable forces is essential to making this happen.