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Disability studies minor being offered on campus

by Alex Hutton - Contributing Writer
Wed, Feb 19th 2020 10:00 am
The College at Brockport is now offering a disability studies minor that can be tailored to individual students. Photo Courtesy of Daily Eagle
The College at Brockport is now offering a disability studies minor that can be tailored to individual students. Photo Courtesy of Daily Eagle

In the fall of 2019, The College at Brockport launched a disability studies minor. The program provides an interdisciplinary approach to the study of disability. Brockport is one of the only colleges in the area with this minor. 

Housed in the Women and Gender Studies Department, the program requires 18 credits, including three interdepartmental core classes and three electives from a wide range of disciplines. 

“We decided to make the core classes Critical Disability Studies courses and the electives can be anything that involves working with people with disabilities,” Disability Studies Department Chair Milo Obourn said. “We want the electives to speak to individual students needs and interests, while the core classes will be more theoretical and about how Critical Disability Studies thinks about ability, disability and ableism.”

Universities are well-versed in studying disability from a health care stand point, but the first disabilities studies program emerged in 1994 at Syracuse University. Critical Disability Studies is a growing field, and it looks at disability as the complex intersection between medicine, society and the body, not just as a physical, neurological or biochemical problem. It considers how institutions and societies “dis-able” people. 

“Critical Disability Studies comes right out of the Disability Rights Movements, which is the ideas and thoughts of people with disabilities,” Obourn said. “That’s a really important thing to know, so that you’re not coming in as an able bodied person that is going to help a person with a disability but as somebody who understands, and you’re actually working out of the knowledge constructed by people with disabilities.”

The disability studies minor provides an interdisciplinary approach including courses from the English, women and gender studies and language departments.  It examines disability through different departments and programs to truly understand how ableism works in our society. The program pairs well with all majors, especially those that can involve working directly with people with disabilities. 

“This minor can be beneficial to a lot of people that are in different kinds of roles where they might work with people with disabilities, but I think that it can be helpful with anything that we do in life,” Obourn said. “Understanding the way that ableism has affected our body and mind, understanding who gets access to things, whose opinions are valued and where barriers are for different people; understanding how we’ve all internalized ideas about our bodies and how they should or shouldn’t be, knowing all that can benefit you in any profession you want to go into.” 

The core courses will teach students the concepts of the historical and social construction of disability. Like African American studies, women and gender studies and other disciplines born out of liberation movements, disability studies teaches it is society that needs normalizing, not the minority group.

“One thing that’s cool about disability rights is that you can be any kind of minority and also disabled; disability studies includes race, gender and sexuality,” Jillian Weise, a poet and disability rights activist who visited Brockport on Wednesday, Feb. 12, with the Writers Forum, said. “Disability could happen to anyone.”

Weise, who identifies as a disabled person, believes disabilities studies is relevant to everyone. 

“When you start reading into the studies, you realize that we all have bodies,” Weise said. “It’s relevant from any perspective because we all have bodies and our bodies are all going to fail at some point; even if it’s the 24 hour flu, you’re going to be a disabled subject for 24 hours in that moment.”

Totalling 19% of the population, if people with disabilities were formally recognized as a minority group, they would be the largest minority group in America.

“People with disabilities are the number one minority group and it’s the only group that anyone can join at any time,” Student Accessibility Services Coordinator Nicole Hall said. “This program offers an opportunity for any type of major to have an in depth look at another minority group that is prevalent in any workplace, institution or trade they will work it in the future. One out of four people could have a disability. Whether it’s identifiable or not, you’re going to work with people with disabilities.”

The department works with students to tailor the minor to their interests and needs. If you are interested in the Disability Studies Minor, you can contact Obourn for more information.

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