Course Summary

Course Description

Disability is a fundamental facet of human diversity--people with disabilities make up the largest minority in the U.S. population--and disabled people have histories and cultures deserving of study on their own terms. Disability Studies thus has a strong claim to a place in any multicultural curriculum. Yet disability lags behind race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and class in recognition inside and outside the academy.

Disability Studies is not solely or primarily the study of disabled people as a distinct population, however; rather, it involves the comprehensive investigation of disability as a cultural construct that undergirds social practices and cultural representations in various media. As contemporary Disability Studies scholars view it, then, disability is a significant and powerful cultural category; like race and gender, disability is a cultural construct (or system of representation) that assigns traits to individuals--and discriminates among them--on the basis of bodily differences.

At the heart of contemporary Disability Studies is the "social paradigm" of disability, which deflects attention from variations and dysfunctions in individual bodies (which are referred to as impairments) to restrictions imposed on aberrant bodies by exclusive physical, social, legal, and cultural environments. That is, the social paradigm locates disability at the intersection between individuals and their cultural contexts. (It thus distinguishes itself from the medical paradigm of disability, which locates disability in defects or anomalies of bodies.) The social paradigm underpins and in effect mandates a social and political agenda: if disability is not a matter of physical anomalies but rather of oppressive social frameworks, then the remedy is not to fix individual bodies but to reform the body politic. In effect and in intention, the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, inscribed this paradigm into federal law, by requiring accommodations to maximize access and inclusion.

Disability Studies is relatively young but rapidly maturing field. It grew out of the Disability Rights Movement and had its first academic manifestation in the social sciences in the 1970s and 1980s in the UK as well as in the US; in the 1990s, a second wave of work emerged in the US, primarily in the humanities. These approaches occasionally clash, but ultimately they are complementary.

Many controversial issues in the arena of public policy and public culture--such as abortion, capital punishment, eugenics and genetics, euthanasia, health care and health insurance, and welfare--are bound up with disability concerns. Increasingly, contemporary citizens need to understand disability in cultural and historical context in order to make decisions that often literally involve life or death. With the aging of the population, the invention and application of new medical technologies, and a crisis in health care, "disability literacy" will become all the more desirable--indeed, indispensable--as an attribute of an informed public.

Hofstra has a distinguished tradition of accessibility and hospitality to disabled people. It has long welcomed students with a variety of disabilities, major and minor, visible and invisible, acquired and congenital. Furthermore, Axinn Library's collection has substantial strength in the field. It carries many specialized journals, and its book collection is also very comprehensive--in part because it benefits from state funding (through the Department of Education) as a designated Long Island Library Resources Council "area library" for disability studies. So the University is rich in both disability history and resources.

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