What is Disability Studies? Home Michael Erik Myatt Dissertation Award Mini Grants Public Interest Law Fellowship Rackham 580 Advisory Board Steering Committee Other Disability Organizations What is Disability Studies?
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Disability Studies views disability as a political and cultural identity, not simply as a medical condition. Disability is not solely a set of physical or mental limitations but the product of an interaction between physical and cultural environments shaping the perception and experience of different capacities.

Several important social developments have brought the issue of disability to the forefront of our national consciousness:

  • The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 empowered persons with disabilities and changed how institutions conduct business
  • According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 54 million Americans have a disability (nearly 20% of the population), and this number is growing
  • The 2000 U.S. Census included a disability component for the first time, recognizing the significance of disability
  • An active disability rights movement in the United States and abroad continues to address access and participation as well as institutionalization
  • In 2001, the World Health Organization revised its description of disability to include participation and environment, defining disability as more than a medical condition
  • In 2002, the United Nations sponsored an "International Day of Disabled Persons" to raise awareness and promote participation

Disability Studies has emerged in tandem with these important events. Its purpose is to expand the concept of diversity in democratic society and to increase the awareness of how disability influences the life course of human beings, the organization of societies, and the shape of knowledge in the arts, sciences, and humanities.

Dozens of college and university campuses in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom have established programs and departments in Disability Studies. Some programs lead to undergraduate or graduate degrees, some certification; some courses are offered by established academic departments ranging from Romance Languages to Rehabilitation Science, from Law to Literature, from Psychology to Engineering. The field as a whole is broadly interdisciplinary, and the University of Michigan is an ideal place for maximizing the interdisciplinary reach of Disability Studies.

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