Disability studies is defined as an academic discipline that examines the meaning, nature, and consequences of disability, as a social construct. Disability studies courses include work in disability history, theory, legislation, policy, ethics and the arts. However, students are taught to focus is the lived experiences of individuals with disabilities. In practical terms. the field is focused on increasing individuals with disabilities access to civil rights and improving quality of life.
"At its heart disability studies is about what it means to be human: who gets to participate in society and to what extent..."
As the country celebrates the 25-year anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, The University of Toledo is working to advance the conversation beyond addressing discrimination and accessibility.
A new undergraduate degree in disability studies beginning this fall at UToledo is the first of its kind in the country rooted in the humanities and offered exclusively on campus.
"Disability has long been studied as a biomedical issue, but disability studies is dramatically different," said Dr. Jim Ferris, the Ability Center of Greater Toledo Endowed Chair in Disability Studies.
"Rather than focusing on the characteristics of bodies and functional limitations or impairments, disability studies focuses on disability as a social construct."
The disability rights movement started in the 1970s and advanced when President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA on July 26, 1990.
Now the growing field of disability studies is promoting the scholarly understanding of disability as a sociocultural phenomenon rather than simply as a medically defined condition through recognizing the contributions, experiences, history and culture of people with disabilities, Ferris said.
"At its heart disability studies is about what it means to be human: who gets to participate in society and to what extent," he said. "It's about recognizing and respecting diversity. It's about how to think about and talk about the ways of being different in the world."
People with disabilities make up the largest minority group in the United States with more than 56 million people or 19 percent of the population, according to 2010 Census Bureau data, with that number expected to grow as the population ages, Ferris said.
"Everyone becomes disabled if they live long enough. It's part of the aging process," he said.
A bachelor's degree in disability studies is marketed to students interested in careers in social service, public education, advocacy, government policy, health care administration, human resource management or other similar fields.
The degree program includes study of disability culture and history, disability law and human rights, Deaf studies, gender and disability, and autism and culture, as well as a mandatory internship.
For additional information on the Disability Studies Program, visit utoledo.edu/llss/disability
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Famous People with Disabilities - Well known people with disabilities and conditions who contributed to society.