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Disability studies is an interdisciplinary field of study, which is focused on the contributions, experiences, history, and culture of people with disabilities. The field of teaching and research in the area of disability studies is growing worldwide.
Disability studies is based on the premise that the disadvantage typically experienced by those who are disabled reflects primarily the way society defines and responds to certain types of 'difference'.
The Society for Disability Studies offers the following working guidelines for any program that describes itself as 'Disability Studies':
- It should be interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary. Disability sits at the center of many overlapping disciplines in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences. Programs in Disability Studies should encourage a curriculum that allows students, activists, teachers, artists, practitioners, and researchers to engage the subject matter from various disciplinary perspectives.
- It should challenge the view of disability as an individual deficit or defect that can be remedied solely through medical intervention or rehabilitation by "experts" and other service providers. Rather, a program in disability studies should explore models and theories that examine social, political, cultural, and economic factors that define disability and help determine personal and collective responses to difference. At the same time, Disability Studies should work to de-stigmatize disease, illness, and impairment, including those that cannot be measured or explained by biological science. Finally, while acknowledging that medical research and intervention can be useful, Disability Studies should interrogate the connections between medical practice and stigmatizing disability.
- It should study national and international perspectives, policies, literature, culture, and history with an aim of placing current ideas of disability within their broadest possible context. Since attitudes toward disability have not been the same across times and places, much can be gained by learning from these other experiences.
- It should actively encourage participation by disabled students and faculty, and should ensure physical and intellectual access.
- It should make it a priority to have leadership positions held by disabled people; at the same time it is important to create an environment where contributions from anyone who shares the above goals are welcome.