Two new courses are being offered at the University of Missouri-St. Louis that will be the core to a Minor in Disability Studies: Introduction to Disability Studies (INTDISC 1011) and the History of Disability (INTDISC 1012). Taught by SDI’s Director of Education Steve Foelsch, these courses promote the understanding of disability as social, civil and human rights issues, not a problem to be “cured.” This minor has been at Maryville University since 2005.
Disability Studies is an interdisciplinary field established about 30 years ago. It has grown rapidly ever since. A feature that sets it apart from mainstream approaches to disability is that it advocates a shift from the medical model to a social model. “In short,” Steve explains, “DS is both an academic and activist-oriented field. Scholar-activists in DS aim to remove barriers rather than ‘fix’ disability,” he continues. DS delves into the social sphere of disability.
In pursuing this Disability Studies field, students will not only examine the history of disability, but society’s recognition of people who are disabled, those people’s understanding of themselves and their image in society, and how these perceptions influence policy and policymaking on the macro and micro level.
“I believe what differentiates SDI’s classes is that they are created and taught by people with disabilities,” Steve says. “Students have a rare chance to not only learn from presentations given by people with disabilities, but also to interact and role play with them.”
Contributors to the Disability Studies minor include Deborah Baldini, CAS Academic Innovation; James Craig, Military and Veteran’s Studies; Michael Griffin, Psychology; Leighanne Heisel, Communication; Rocky Keel, Sociology; Tom Meuser, Gerontology; Kathleen Nigro, Gender Studies; and Lauren Obermark, English.
Because people with disabilities comprise the largest minority in the US, the Minor in Disability Studies is pertinent for many different career tracks. It provides students with both foundational coursework and a capstone experience where they work directly with people who are disabled.
The Capstone Course is a multifaceted assignment that serves as a culminating learning experience. It is the student’s College Thesis, or long-term investigative project execution. “There is nothing that reinforces knowledge more than the successful application of it,” Steve professes.
UMSL’s new Minor in Disability Studies demonstrates its commitment to fuller inclusion of disabled students as part of its continuing effort to recruit and retain a diverse student body. “Students who are disabled are too often marginalized or ignored at universities, despite their increasing presence in classrooms. This minor makes the UMSL campus more welcoming for them,” Steve concludes.
SDI is proud to partner with UMSL to bring an important field of study to a new audience. Because the Disability Studies curriculum will be in the College of Arts and Sciences, participants will have a wide range of major areas of study. The program graduates will be our best advocates in a wide variety of career and professional settings, which is essential as more people with disabilities seek entry into the competitive job market.
SDI applauds UMSL for recognizing the importance of this curriculum and partnering with SDI on its development and implementation.