The UB Center for Disability Studies (CDS) is a product of the cooperation between the UB College of Arts and Sciences and People Inc., a regional service provider to people with disabilities in Western New York. Eager to encourage both academic research and community education, People Inc. proposed the idea of a center that would bring together its resources and those of the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York. An agreement creating the CDS as a three-year project was signed in October, 2009.
In its initial phase, the UB CDS hosted a visiting scholar over the course of three semesters (January 2010 – May 2011), Professor Michael Rembis. Professor Rembis taught in the Department of History, while consulting with People Inc., UB, and the Center for Disability Studies on the development of a Masters degree in disability studies, and on the expansion of People Inc.’s exhibits and holdings at its Museum of disAbility History. During this initial phase, Professor Rembis worked closely with the director of the UB CDS, Professor David Gerber, also in the Department of History, to create an interdisciplinary Masters program in disability studies composed of both new and existing curriculum and a multidisciplinary faculty drawn from throughout the Humanities and Social Science disciplines.
Disability Studies and disability-related research programs are quickly becoming prominent features at many of the most forward thinking colleges and universities. Currently more than 50 such programs exist at institutions located across North America and the United Kingdom. The proliferation of these programs reflects a definite trend toward the incorporation of persons with disabilities, as well as disability-related issues and research, into the larger society and the burgeoning body of academic research that explores human variation, cultural conceptions “normal” bodies and minds, and exposes systems of power and oppression that are based on those conceptions. With the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and medical and technological advances enabling persons with disabilities to live longer, more fruitful lives, Disability Studies and disability-related research programs are certain to continue to grow and expand, as society seeks to incorporate millions of people with disabilities who seek to participate fully in American life.
The University at Buffalo is uniquely positioned to become a leading center for Disability Studies in the United States. UB has a long, rich history of disability-related programs and research that have attracted an increasing number of scholars from around the world to Buffalo. UB faculty and staff have also shown a long-standing commitment to cross-disciplinary research and inquiry, especially in cultural, ethnic, gender, and area studies, and in strengthening the university’s ties with the larger community.
UB’s initial partner, People Inc., is a major regional force in assisting people with disabilities to live and work in the community. People Inc.’s commitment to an expanded understanding of disability is seen in its sponsorship of an Annual Film Festival that explores both the lives of people with disabilities and the attitudes that they and nondisabled Americans bring to their encounters with one another. In addition, People Inc. has founded the Museum of disAbility History in Amherst, New York. The museum was founded on the belief that a greater knowledge of the variability of cultural conceptions of disability across centuries would facilitate the integration of people with disabilities into the community as equal citizens.
The disability studies program at UB focuses on providing students and interested community members with broad exposure to innovative methodological and theoretical approaches to studying disability primarily in the humanities, with extensive collaboration in the social sciences, education, law, and the health sciences. The disability studies curricula and research agenda is driven by an interdisciplinary focus that seeks to reconstruct and evaluate the broad and diverse experiences of marginalized populations. The Center for Disability Studies focuses on disability as a category of analysis and a lived embodiment and emphasizes the diverse experiences of disabled people in various times and locations.
The Center for Disability Studies at UB seeks to examine how addressing disability in its full complexity can promote the participation, self-determination, and equal citizenship of people with disabilities in society. The program remains open to any student, faculty, administrator, or community member who is committed to studying the complex nature of disability, with all of its implications, as well as more pragmatic measures that can be taken to minimize the negative personal and social consequences of disability. A particular strength of the program will be its incorporation of a diverse array of faculty, students, and community members from the humanities and the social sciences. The program will explore issues that cut across impairment, clinical, social, cultural, ethical, legal, educational, and policy perspectives on disability.
The members of the Center for Disability Studies recognize the inherent tensions that exist between the therapeutic, medical, and social models of disability; we hope to use these differences as a means of developing a Disability Studies Program at UB that integrates a broad knowledge base and does not perpetuate long standing divisions.