Disability studies is a growing academic discipline that examines disability — as both a physical or psychological impairment and a social, cultural, interpersonal, and political phenomenon — and the lived experience of people who identify with disability. SDS is proud to be at the forefront of this field of inquiry.
One of disability studies’ hallmarks is its interdisciplinary nature; the field draws on the humanities, sciences and social sciences to understand the meaning and nature of disability more deeply. People who work in disability studies — and who are members of SDS — also study literature, medicine, history, philosophy, architecture, education, law and public policy and anthropology.
This multitude of scholarly perspectives, paired with the universality of disability itself, means that rather than being a “special-interest” field, disability studies is applicable to every person and profession.
In disability studies, we prioritize the voices and participation of disabled people, who actively contribute to the field’s scholarship as opposed to becoming a passive subject of “study” by non-disabled individuals. Many disabled scholars are also activists and advocates who work toward the destigmatization of disease, illness and impairment, making the field a practical one as well as a theoretical one.
As a field, disability studies works to examine systemic and historic discrimination against individuals with disabilities, addressing societal ignorance, prejudice and preconceptions of what disability is or should be.
We see disability studies as being grounded in the questioning of societal norms surrounding disability. It challenges the view of disability as an individual deficit or defect that can be remedied solely through medical intervention or rehabilitation by “experts” and other service providers. Instead, we examine the social, cultural and political factors that turn an individual impairment into a societally-constructed disability.
In disability studies, disability is viewed not as an inherently negative trait or a burden to society, but as simply a marker of diversity. Disability, like any other minority, contains its own community, whose members often view it as a source of pride — dependent, as with any minority status, on their individual experiences with that identity. Acceptance and, later, embrace of disability occurs on a distinct timeline for each individual — and for some, it may not occur at all. But in disability, and disability studies, many individuals find personal and intellectual meaning, as well as community.
Barnes, C. (2003). Disability studies: what’s the point? Keynote address presented at Disability Studies: Theory, Policy and Practice Conference, 3 September, University of Lancaster, UK.
Goodley, D. (2010). Disability studies: An interdisciplinary introduction. London: Sage Pub.
Linton, S. (1998). Claiming disability: Knowledge and identity. New York, NY: New York University Press.
Pfeiffer, D., & Kiger, G. (1995). Introduction. Journal of Health and Human Services Administration, 17(4), 381-390. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25780831
Shakespeare, T. (Ed.). (2005). The disability reader: Social science perspectives. London: Continuum.
What Is Disability Studies? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://disabilitystudies.washington.edu/what-is-disability-studies.
Young, S. (2014, April). I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/stella_young_i_m_not_your_inspiration_thank_you_very_much