Ohio College Adds Degree In Disability Studies

Blake Neff | Reporter

The University of Toledo in Ohio has announced that it is creating the country’s first full-fledged undergraduate degree program in the field of disability studies. The degree will join a host of other “studies” programs around the U.S., such as African-American studies, women and gender studies, and the more recent queer studies.

“Disability Studies explores the meaning of human difference – how we value some bodies and devalue others, how we accept or resist certain notions of ‘normal’ behavior, function, and appearance,” Toledo’s website for the major says.

Classes in this major won’t be focused on practical matters, like physical therapy or special education (which already have their own courses of study), but will instead focus on the disabled “identity” and the experience of being disabled.

“Rather than focusing on the characteristics of bodies and functional limitations or impairments, disability studies focuses on disability as a social construct,” Jim Ferris, a professor in the new department, said in a statement given to the Northeast Ohio Media Group.

Mandatory components of this new major will include taking a history of disability in the United States as well a course dubbed “Definitions of Disability.” Elective courses will include “Autism and Culture” and “Crip Arts, Crip Culture,” a course dealing with disabled art. The degree will also involve a mandatory internship.

Minors in this booming field already exist at The Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of California, Berkeley. Several other institutions offer doctoral programs in the field.

University of Illinois at Chicago professor Lennard Davis told Inside Higher Ed Toledo’s new program is a “big deal.”

“I think this puts disability studies in the same category as women’s and gender studies, African-American studies, queer studies, and the like,” Davis said. “Disability for too long has been the banished sibling of the other identity and diversity groups. And over time, when other minors become majors, disability will be seen as a legitimate and important topic of study. Let’s not forget that people with disabilities are the largest minority in the U.S.”

About 56 million people in the United States are classified as “disabled” in some capacity, according to the Census Bureau. That figure includes both physical disabilities like blindness and mental disabilities like Down syndrome.

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