“I’ve never been this excited about my education before,” my student said as we discussed his undergraduate B.A. degree in Disability Studies. Then he laughed at himself with astonishment. Because of his commitment to the topic, he also was working harder in his college coursework than he ever had before; and he’d never imagined that academic hard work and excitement could go together. This student, like all of our students, came to the University of Toledo’s Disability Studies Program seeking a future job (for himself) and justice (for all).
In Disability Studies we don’t diagnose individual bodies and thought processes. For that students can go elsewhere. Instead, our students learn to diagnose why, as the US Department of Labor reported in 2013, 82.4% of people with disabilities were unemployed. Our students learn to diagnose why, as Halloween draws near, those making money by staging haunted houses often advertise that they do so from the grounds of “former insane asylums”—and why those who pay to visit haunted houses find that both terrifying and funny. Our students figure out solutions. Our students who become human resource managers will be better human resource managers because they know something about the nearly twenty percent of the U.S. population who has a disability. Our students who become policy makers will do so thinking of a community’s wide-ranging diversity. Our students who go on to work at art museums will do so thinking about accessibility broadly defined and the beauty of all bodies. Our students will be better employees and they will be better employers.
What began in October of 1945 as National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week has become Disability Employment Awareness Month. This is a marvelous time to proclaim the need for more Disability Studies programs.
Resisting the pressure to monetize everything in education, I also want to state strongly that Disability Studies courses enable students to better deal with the vagaries of life. All of us either are or know people who live with disability. Knowing that disability is not tragedy, and that disability is simply part of the human experience, enables all of us to better savor the human experience.
This week another one of UT’s delightful students told me with horror and astonishment that some universities lacked Disability Studies programs. Could I believe it? “How do students learn these things?” she asked.
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