Electric EDGE
Web Edition of
The Ragged Edge
Jan/Feb 1998

Electric Edge


'Celebrating Differences'
at the New School

Nadina LaSpina's course, "Celebrating Differences: Disability Culture" an accredited course of the New School for Social Research in New York City, is one of hundreds of disability studies courses nationwide.

"The origins and the depths of the social construct of disability are just two of the issues explored in this course . . . [which] traces disability through the ages: the progression from disability as punishment or sign from the gods, to the charity model, then the medical and rehab models, and finally to independent living and disability rights movement," wrote student Leslie Heller. Works by disabled writers "highlight issues central to our community as a whole: How is self-concept affected by living with a disability? In what ways does growing up with a disability differ from becoming disabled as an adult? Has society's view of us really changed, and, if so, in what ways? . . . What unites us as a community? . . . Are our values different than those of the non-disabled majority? And can our marginalized group and the non-disabled majority find common ground and understanding of each other?"

LaSpina "combines scholarly writings with autobiographical, biographical and creative works to encourage students to ponder and discuss ideas," Heller wrote. "The issues raised reveal a collective history and a blossoming new culture."

In its third year at the New School, the course is part of the New School's "distance learning" program, available for credit over the Internet. To find out more about about the course via the Internet, go to http://pw1.netcom.com/~nlaspina.

What is it?

"There is no commonly accepted definition of 'disability studies' right now," says David Pfeiffer, resident scholar in at the University of Hawaii's department of political science and editor of the Society for Disability Studies' SDS Quarterly. "There still isn't really an accepted definition of 'disability.' "

Though one can still find courses "coming out of rehab, rehab is not disability studies," he said. "Disability studies is more like ethnic studies."

An article he published a few years ago, says Pfeiffer, noted more than 100 disabilities studies courses in the nation's colleges and universities -- and he suspects there are far more now. Though course content varies widely, the main themes are awareness and public policy. And, he said, disability as a topic is slowly working its way into history, literature, sociology and political science courses, a trend he applauds.


  • A colloquium, Enabling the Humanities: Disability Studies in Higher Education, will be April 17 and 18 at Ohio State University. Information is on the Internet at http://www.english.ohio-state.edu/eh.

  • The newly formed Disability Studies Discussion Group of the Modern Languages Association will meet at the MLA meeting in Toronto Dec. 27-30. For more information on the MLA's disability committee, email Rosemarie Thomson at rthomson@fac.howard.edu.

  • Multi-color

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