What are Disability Studies?

Disability studies is a broad term that the DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) Center at the University of Washington describes as “an academic discipline that approaches disability from an interdisciplinary perspective and uses multiple theories to define disability and understand the disability experience.” Disability studies spans disciplines in the clinical sciences, humanities, and social sciences.

The Society of Disability Studies states that disability studies programs “should explore models and theories that examine the social, political, cultural, and economic factors that define disability and help determine personal and collective responses to differences.” These programs should work to de-stigmatize disease, illness, and disability and should question the connections between medical practice and the stigmatization of disability while acknowledging that medical research and interventions are useful. These programs put current ideas in the broadest context possible, studying the perspectives, policies, literature, culture, and history of disability from the national and international level. Disability studies programs encourage the participation of students and faculty with disabilities, insuring access in the process and prioritizing leadership positions that are held by people with disabilities to create an environment where contributions from everyone are welcome.

The NIDILRR community shares this perspective, with many projects exploring “the social, political, cultural, and economic factors that define disability.” These projects include rehabilitation research and training centers examining the impact of rural living on disability, centers focusing on the intersection of ethnic minority and disability, projects exploring the economics and demographics of disability, and individual fellowships that dive into the history of disability and the independent living movement. We encourage you to explore the diverse range of projects and visit their websites to learn more.

Our collection includes more than 470 abstracts of research literature from the NIDILRR community on some aspect of disability studies. Here are a few ways to narrow that topic:

The collection includes more than 1,500 abstracts in total on this topic, from the NIDILRR community and other researchers in the US and abroad. Try combining some of the terms above with the phrase disability studies using our advanced search page. As always, our information specialists are available to help search our databases or provide copies of items in our collection for a low fee.

Are you interested in pursuing a degree in disability studies?

Programs in disability studies are forming at universities and colleges throughout the country and at all levels of scholarship. Universities and colleges that have such programs include the City University of New York School of Professional Studies, Gallaudet University, Purdue University, Miami University, National-Louis University, University of California at Berkeley and at Los Angeles (UCLA), University of Toledo, and University of Washington. The Disability Studies Program at Syracuse University maintains a list of academic programs in disability studies in North American colleges and universities.