"The social model of disability separates physical impairment from social disability, and in its most rigid form does not accept that impairment can cause disability at all."
Disability studies is a relatively new interdisciplinary field focusing on how people with disabilities show up in history, literature, social policy, law, architecture, and other disciplines.
Disability Studies examines the policies and practices of all societies to understand the social, rather than the physical or psychological determinants of the experience of disability. Disability Studies has been developed to disentangle impairments from the myths, ideology and stigma that influence social interaction and social policy. The scholarship challenges the idea that the economic and social statuses and the assigned roles of people with disabilities are the inevitable outcomes of their condition".
The disability rights movement, emerging in the 1970s and 1980s, laid much of the groundwork for the current development of disability studies. It was people with disabilities themselves who shifted the perspective away from a focus on individual deficiency and pathology, towards a focus on socially constructed barriers (inaccessible architecture, exclusion, prejudice). The study of disability is growing worldwide.
Critics of Disability Studies
Disability studies is not without its critics. It has been suggested that the dominant social model, which developed in the 1970s and has served its purpose well since then, has now been outgrown, and needs major developments.
One major area of contention is the frequent exclusion of the personal experience of impairment, cognitive disability, and illness. The social model of disability separates physical impairment from social disability, and in its most rigid form does not accept that impairment can cause disability at all. Scholars are increasingly recognizing that the effects of impairment form a central part of many disabled people's experience, and that these effects must be included for the social model to be a valid reflection of that experience. The feminist slogan "the personal is political" has been particularly influential in these developments.
Disability studies has also been criticized for its failure to engage with multiple forms of oppression, such as racism, sexism or homophobia. As a relatively new discipline, it is true that as yet disability studies has seen little progress in this area: publications are now beginning to emerge though, and in time it is hoped that this issue will be fully engaged.
Disability Studies - Colleges and Schools
List of Schools and College Courses Focusing on the Study of Disability
The Society for Disability Studies (SDS) - An international non-profit organization that promotes the study of disability in social, cultural, and political contexts. Disability Studies recognizes that disability is a key aspect of human experience, and that the study of disability has important political, social, and economic implications for society as a whole, including both disabled and non-disabled people. Through research, artistic production, teaching and activism, the Society for Disability Studies seeks to augment understanding of disability in all cultures and historical periods, to promote greater awareness of the experiences of disabled people, and to advocate for social change - www.disstudies.org
Ryerson University's School of Disability Studies - Established in 1999, is the first in Canada to offer a degree education that is strongly rooted in a disability studies perspective. We offer a distinct undergraduate program that illuminates the extent to which the lives of disabled people are shaped by patterns of injustice, exclusion, discrimination and the rule of social, cultural and aesthetic 'norms'. Put another way, Ryerson University's School of Disability Studies does not teach about disability, but rather teaches about social and material worlds, beginning from disability. Awards scholarships by Special Categories are open to all current Ryerson University students who are international students, student athletes, aboriginal students or students with disabilities - www.ryerson.ca/ds/index.html
Disability Studies at Syracuse University - Disability Studies applies social, cultural, historical, and philosophical perspectives to the study of disability in society. Building on the tradition of Syracuse University's School of Education in the area of disability, the program is designed to help students understand and work to overcome the barriers to full participation of people with disabilities in the community and society. Consistent with the Syracuse tradition, this program stands at the forefront of change and new ways of thinking about and accommodating people with disabilities - disabilitystudies.syr.edu/default.aspx
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