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What’s DIS? Answering Your Questions About Disability Studies at the University of Hawaii

Submitted by genesisl on Jun 23, 2017

People often ask, “What exactly IS Disability Studies? Isn’t it just like Special Education?” The fact is that although Disability Studies does address issues of education for children with disabilities, Disability Studies is more like Women’s Studies or Ethnic Studies then it is like Special Education.  Disability studies is an interdisciplinary field that views disability as a natural part of a diverse society made up of many kinds of people, with many kinds of human characteristics. Disability Studies scholars come from backgrounds as diverse as history, education, philosophy, political science, sociology, social work, literature, urban planning, business, law, travel management, gender and sexuality studies, medicine, ethics, cultural studies, and more. The common thread of their interest is, of course, disability.

Why do students take Disability Studies courses?

Because disability is an everyday part of the human experience, whether you are a student, professional, person with a disability or family member of someone with a disability, disability is bound to impact your life. Disability Studies courses are designed to approach disability from a diversity perspective. Disability Studies courses provide students with the knowledge, skills, and insights necessary to understand and navigate disability issues in modern society. Professionally, a background in Disability Studies strengthens your resume because it shows that you have people skills above and beyond that of the typical employee.

How many courses and what academic programs does the Center on Disability Studies offer?

The Center on Disability Studies currently offers 3 Undergraduate courses, 9 Graduate courses, and a Graduate Certificate in Disability and Diversity Studies. All of our courses are taken online.

How many students take Disability Studies courses each year and where do they come from?

We enroll on average about 140 Undergraduate and 60 graduate students in DIS courses per year. As of Spring, 2017, there were 14 students actively enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Disability and Diversity Studies. Most of our students are from Hawaii, but many hail from the U.S. mainland or from such countries as Taiwan, Japan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, India, the U.K. and Columbia.

What are some new initiatives in the works for the CDS Disability Studies Program?

Some exciting new projects on the horizon include:

  • Developing a Disability Studies Masters program.

  • Expanding professional development offerings in the areas of STEM education, travel management, web accessibility, and public policy.

  • Developing international education targeted towards NGOs and countries that are developing policies and programs after ratifying the CRPD.

  • Increasing international exchange targeted towards co-teaching and exchange of faculty and students.

  • Expanding a network of cross-disciplinary faculty at UH Manoa with a focus on intersectionalities between disability studies and education, ethnic studies, medicine, aging studies, etc.

Photo: Megan Conway

Megan A. Conway, PhD, is Director of instruction and training at CDS. In addition to teaching graduate level online classes and coordinatoring Disability Studies coursework, she is editor of the Review of Disability Studies: An International Journal. Dr. Conway has been at UHM since 2001, and is orginally from the San Francisco Bay Area. She enjoys keeping active with yoga, walking, swimming and gardening. She also loves to cook and sample the wonderful diversity of foods in Hawaii.