Disability Studies

What is Disability Studies?


Using an interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary approach.  Disability sits at the intersection 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.

  • Challenging 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.

  • Studying 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.

  • Encouraging participation by disabled students and faculty, and ensuring physical and intellectual access.
    Prioritizing 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.

Source: Society of Disability Studies

Disability studies is an academic discipline that examines the meaning, nature, and consequences of disability as a social construct. Initially the field focused on the division between "impairment" and "disability", where impairment was an impairment of an individual's mind or body, while disability was considered a social construction.


This premise gave rise to two distinct models of disability: the social and medical models of disability. In 1999 the social model was universally accepted as the model preferred by the field. 


However, in recent years, the division between the social and medical models has been challenged. Additionally there has been an increased focus on interdisciplinary research. For example, recent investigations suggest using "cross-sectional markers of stratification" may help provide new insights on the non-random distribution of risk factors capable of acerbating disablement processes.

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 their quality of life.

Disability studies emerged in the 1980s. In 1986, the Section for the Study of Chronic Illness, Impairment, and Disability of the Social Science Association was renamed the Society for Disability Studies. The first US disabilities studies program emerged in 1994, at Syracuse University. The first edition of the Disabilities Studies Reader (one of the first collections of academic papers related to disability studies) was published in that same year. The field grew rapidly over the next ten years. In 2005, the Modern Language Association established disability studies as a “division of study.” 

Journal – Review of Disability Studies – Hawaii – http://www.rds.hawaii.edu/


Society for Disability Studies – Buffalo, NY – http://www.disstudies.org/

List of programs in North America


Some of the journals are open access (free online), so they have direct links below, as you don't need to go through the E-journal locator to put in your NetID for the open access journals.  Also, you can browse lists of journal titles by subject in the E-journal locator.  Under Social Sciences, there is a category for "Disability Studies and Assistance" which has journals from medical model and social model perspectives.

20 Best Deals on Colleges for Disability Studies


Journals & Databases for Disability Studies: Journals


  • Canadian Journal of Disability Studies- The Canadian Journal of Disability Studies publishes peer-reviewed original articles that advance research in the multidisciplinary, international field of disability studies.

    Published by The Canadian Disability Studies Association- Association Canadienne des Etudes sur l'Incpacite


  • Disability & Society- an international journal providing a focus for debate about such issues as human rights, discrimination, definitions, policy and practices. It appears against a background of change in the ways in which disability is viewed and responded to.

   Published by Routledge

  • Disability Studies Quarterly-  the journal of the Society for Disability Studies (SDS). It is a multidisciplinary and international journal of interest to social scientists, scholars in the humanities, disability rights advocates, creative writers, and others concerned with the issues of people with disabilities. It represents the full range of methods, epistemologies, perspectives, and content that the multidisciplinary field of disability studies embraces. DSQ is committed to developing theoretical and practical knowledge about disability and to promoting the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in society.

    Published by Society for Disability Studies


  • International Journal on Mental Health and Deafness- The main objective of the International Journal of Mental Health and Deafness (IJMHD) is to disseminate cutting edge research about the aetiology, development, diagnosis, treatment and intervention of mental health problems and behavioural disorders of individuals who are deaf or hearing impaired across the lifespan. The IJMHD would also aim to facilitate the establishment of a solid network of professionals working in the field, that can lead to further transnational collaborative research and ultimately, to the advancement of knowledge in the field of mental health and deafness.

    Published by European Society for Mental Health and Deafness


  • Information Policy and Disabilities Journal-Information Technology and Disabilities (ITD) Journal is a peer-reviewed journal published jointly by Equal Access to Software and Information (EASI) and Access Technology Higher Education Network (ATHEN). The first twelve volumes were published by EASI starting in 1994. In 2013 EASI combined efforts with ATHEN, which had previously published the ATHEN E-Journal. Volumes and numbers are listed on the site in reverse chronological order. For a complete index of articles and authors, see the Index.

    Published jointly by Equal Access to Software and Information (EASI) and Access Technology Higher Education Network (ATHEN)


  • Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies -was founded in 2006. It was launched at the Inaugural Conference of the Cultural Disability Studies Research Network, Liverpool John Moores University, May 26, 2007. It moved to Liverpool University Press in 2009. The journal focuses on cultural and especially literary representations of disability. 

    Published by Liverpool University Press


  • Journal of Disability Policy Studies - addresses compelling variable issues in ethics, policy and law related to individuals with disabilities. Regular features include "From My Perspective," which discusses issues confronting a particular disability discipline or area, and "Point/Counterpoint" which addresses timely ethical issues affecting individuals with disabilities.

    Published by Hamill Institute on Disabilities and Sage


  • Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities: The Journal of TASH- scientific journal in the field of disabilities. RPSD includes breakthrough articles on such topics such as inclusion, augmentative and alternative communication, supported living, supported employment, early childhood issues, self-advocacy, positive behavioral supports, disability rights and issues of concern to families. This journal is the most influential vehicle for progressive research in the disability field. Published quarterly, RPSD occasionally focuses on special topics, such as cultural competency, covered by many of the most notable authors and researchers in the field.

    Published by TASH


  • Review of Disability Studies: an International Journal- a peer-reviewed, multidisciplinary, international journal. Founded by the late Dr. David Pfeiffer, RDS is published by the Center on Disability Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.  The journal contains research articles, essays, and bibliographies relating to the culture of disability and people with disabilities. It also publishes forums on disability topics brought together by forum editors of international stature. Poetry, short stories, creative essays, photographs, and art work related to disability are also welcome. The journal is published four times a year, and each issue runs approximately 50 pages.  Current issues are in print in the 2nd floor Bird Library Current Publications area.

    Published by Center on Disability Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa


  • Critical Disability Discourse- a bilingual, interdisciplinary journal, publishing articles that focus on experiences of disability from a critical perspective.  The journal’s review board consists of over 30 students from York University, the University of Toronto, Laval University, McMaster University, and the University of Cambridge. CDD was conceived by, and is managed entirely by, graduate students, under the auspices of the Critical Disability Studies graduate program. Our objective is to create an academic space where graduate students might make valuable contributions to the expanding field of critical disability studies. 

    Published by York University


  • Sexuality and Disability - Sexuality and Disabililty is an international forum for the publication of peer-reviewed original interdisciplinary scholarly papers that address the psychological and medical aspects of sexuality in relation to rehabilitation.  Most of the articles are not available open access, so use the E-journal locator by journal title to get to the rest of the articles.

    Published by Springerlink


Universities – Some have programs, some are just centers


Updated list in North America:



Berkeley California – http://diversity.berkeley.edu/disability-studies

Syracuse, NY – http://disabilitystudies.syr.edu/what/disabilitystudiesatSU.aspx

Illinois – http://www.ahs.uic.edu/dhd/

Washington – http://depts.washington.edu/disstud/node/15

Utah – http://www.disabilitystudies.utah.edu/

Texas – http://tcds.edb.utexas.edu/

Delaware – http://www.udel.edu/cds/

Hawaii – Center on Disability Studies – http://www.cds.hawaii.edu/

Ohio – https://disabilitystudies.osu.edu/

Maryland - Guide on Disabilities Studies – University of Maryland


Michigan – http://www.umich.edu/~uminds/

California – http://www.uei.ucla.edu/dsminor.htm

Southern Mississipi – http://www.usm.edu/disability-studies

Buffalo – NY – http://www.disabilitystudies.buffalo.edu/

Iowa – http://www.registrar.uiowa.edu/registrar/catalog/liberalartsandsciences/disabilitystudies/

Toledo, Ohio – http://www.utoledo.edu/llss/disability/

Miami – http://www.units.miamioh.edu/disabilitystudies/

Temple, Philadelphia – http://disabilities.temple.edu/programs/ds/

Eastern Washington University – http://www.ewu.edu/csbssw/programs/disability-studies

Georgia, Altlanta – Emory – http://www.disabilitystudies.emory.edu/home/index.html

Maine – http://ccids.umaine.edu/

Hempstead, NY – Hofpstra – http://www.hofstra.edu/Academics/Colleges/HCLAS/DSST/index.html

Wyoming – http://www.uwyo.edu/wind/academic_opp/

Oregon – http://studydisability.uoregon.edu/





Canada – http://www.canadian-universities.net/Universities/Programs/Disability_Studies.html

Canada, Niagara – Brock University – http://www.brocku.ca/social-sciences/departments-and-centres/centre-for-applied-disability

Canada, Toronto – York University – http://cdis.gradstudies.yorku.ca/

Canada, Windsor – University of Windsor – http://www1.uwindsor.ca/disabilitystudies/

Canada, Toronto – Ryerson – http://www.ryerson.ca/disabilitystudies/

Canada, Winnipeg – University of Winnipeg – http://www.uwinnipeg.ca/disability-studies/

Canada – Manitoba – http://www.umanitoba.ca/disability_studies/

Canada, Edmont, Alberta – MacEwan – http://www.macewan.ca/wcm/SchoolsFaculties/HCS/Programs/DisabilityStudies/index.htm?utm_source=ds&utm_medium=redirect

Calgary – http://www.crds.org/

Kings Western University, Canada – http://www.kings.uwo.ca/academics/interdisciplinary-programs/disability-studies/




Adelaide – Flindres University – http://www.flinders.edu.au/courses/postgrad/ds/

Brisbane – Griffith – http://www.griffith.edu.au/health/human-services/what-can-i-study/postgraduate-programs/disability-studies

Sidney – http://www.cdds.med.usyd.edu.au/




UK, Leeds – University of Leeds – http://disability-studies.leeds.ac.uk/

Liverpool Hope University – http://www.hope.ac.uk/postgraduate/postgraduatecourses/disabilitystudiesma/

Center for Culture and Disability Culture (Education)  – David Bolt – http://ccds.hope.ac.uk/ – boltd@hope.ac.uk



Kolhn – University of Colognehttp://idis-eng.uni-koeln.de/



University of Iceland – http://fotlunarfraedi.hi.is/en/english







Grants for students (Canada)


Scholarships for students with disabilities studying at Canada’s colleges and universities.