From the Program Coordinator, Dr. Julie Maybee
Disability Studies offers a unique, holistic and interdisciplinary approach to disability issues that is focused on the experiences of people with disabilities as they work toward full participation in society. The Minor in Disability Studies is particularly valuable for those students who are majoring in fields which may lead to employment in service professions—majors such as Health Education and Promotion, Health Services Administration, Nursing, Recreation Education (especially Therapeutic Recreation), Social Work, Sociology, Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, and Psychology.
The discipline of Disability Studies has its roots in the Independent Living movements and disability activism that grew up in the 1970s in Britain and the United States as part of the international, political movement toward increased civil rights. Disability Studies is united by a commitment the idea that “disability” is, at least in part, a socially constructed category. In the classic version that was developed by the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS), an organization of impaired people founded in the mid-1970’s in Britain, people are not disabled by their bodies or impairments, but by the societies in which they live. Impairments do not disable people, society’s prejudice, discrimination and oppression disables people with impairments. This model was intended to replace the so-called “medical model” of disability. According to that model, someone is disabled by his or her inability to move his or her legs, for instance, or by an inability to see, hear or perform certain cognitive tasks. Against this medical model, the social model argued that—just as much of the disadvantage that has fallen on people who belong to certain genders, races, classes and ethnicities is created by our society—so much of the disadvantage faced by people with disabilities is created by our society. Since the 1970’s, there has been a great deal of debate over “social models” of disability, but Disability Studies as a discipline remains committed to the idea that much of the disadvantage faced by people with disabilities in our society is caused by, and so could be eliminated by, our society.
Disability Studies also touches upon many of today’s most important ethical and social issues. Bioethical issues related to prenatal testing and assisted suicide, the aging population, the number of disabled veterans who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the increasing incidence of premature babies, as well as the increasing number of people who survive serious and disabling injuries and illnesses, all call for a discussion of disability in relation to the arts, media, literature, film, sociology, medicine, public policy, and the sciences.