What is Disability Studies?

Disability studies refer to a unique major that provides academic space to explore important questions and challenges that people with disabilities experience every day. These degree programs explore how disability has been defined throughout history and in different cultures. Physical impairment has been a constant experience for many people throughout history, but the different interpretations of the construction of impairment as a generic social category is a new social invention. Students will focus on the social, cultural and political issues that challenge people with disabilities every day.

Disability Studies Programs

Disability studies explore the social ideologies and cultural systems that have shaped the meaning and experience of disability. The definition of disability has been redefined throughout history. It has also been culturally represented and socially controlled in extremely different ways through public laws, policies and professional practices. The academic field of disability studies will explore how disability professionals can best meet the challenges and alleviate the problems of those with disability and impairments.

Students will learn to define problems, evaluating solutions and critique social ideologies, cultural values and societal arrangements. Graduates will be prepared to represent people with disabilities and advocate for better public policies, support and professional standards. Students will be ready to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities related to gender identity, racial discrimination, sexual orientation and religion and spirituality. Disability studies students will learn how disability gives unique meaning to life. These programs draw insight from interdepartmental courses ranging from English to occupational therapy to applied sociology.

The Benefits of a Disability Studies Degree

Disability studies degree programs will show students that that disability is an integral part of the social diversity. These programs usually focus on the concept of universal access, which is the philosophy that society must be inclusive of all people’s abilities, traits and backgrounds. Universal access, or UA, embraces a holistic attitude that respectful and responsible societies accommodate minorities regardless of their typical appearance or atypical characteristics.
Disability studies degree programs explore social attitudes, social policies and reactions that contribute to people with disabilities being denied their civil rights, oppressed by groups and openly discriminated against.

Students will learn that the responsibility for diversity transcends traditional social values, cultural attitudes and identity-based characteristics. The primary principles that guide these programs include the concept of inter-sectionality, which means that disability and non-disability labels are just one of many characteristic human exhibits. Disability studies programs raise the students’ awareness of critical diversity theories and frameworks. These are social constructions, such as laws and policies, that establish contexts through with individuals and groups are either advantaged or disadvantaged.

Related Resource: 20 Best Deals on Colleges for Disability Studies

Many disability studies programs offer students internships or work in a practicum. For example, students may take jobs as counselors in residential outdoor camps, job shadow disability advocates and investigators at Aging Services departments or volunteer at Department of Human Health and Services agencies. Students who want to work in the field of health care or gerontology should consider earning a disability studies minor that will complement their science courses.