A birds’ eye view of Founders Plaza on UB’s North Campus. A blurry streetlight frames the left of the image with dozens of students moving in various directions around “Whippy,” a piece of public art made from bright aqua-colored plastic picnic tables.

This is a list of the types of courses available through the Master's Degree Program. Students may have other elective courses approved by the Director of the Center for Disability Studies. Course availability varies by semester.

Sample course descriptions:


1. Introduction to Disability Studies (History 576) – [this class is only offered in the fall semester] This course will introduce students to different theoretical and methodological approaches to studying disability within the Humanities and Social Sciences, as well as to the prominent debates within the field. The study of disability within disciplines such as history, sociology, anthropology, English, political science, and geography has been of increasing interest to academic scholars. This course will provide an overview of the relatively new field of Disability Studies, enabling students to think critically about conventional conceptualizations of disability and normality of body and mind.

2. Disability History I (History 577) – This course is an introduction to and chronological survey of the field of disability history. It places disability in historical context, exploring changes and continuities in the ways in which people in different times and locations have thought about both concepts in law, in policy, in scientific, medical, and academic discourse, and in popular and high culture. A critical analysis of the lived experience of those individuals perceived to be disabled, as well as the intersection of disability with race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, age, class, gender, and sexuality are central to this course.

3. A History of Madness (History 566) – This course explores the social history of madness (also called insanity or mental illness) from the 18th century to the present, focusing on patient, inmate, consumer, and psych-survivor perspectives of madness; on the establishment and growth of the mental health professions-- most notably psychiatry; on practices of institutionalization; and on the global psycho-pharmaceutical industry. Course content emphasizes the US context but also includes Western Europe and colonial contexts. Topics for consideration include: histories of treatment; history of institutionalization and confinement; role of DSM & the pharmaceutical industry in shifting definition of mental disorders; madness and art/literature; the relationship between madness and sense; and the anti-psychiatry and psych-survivor movements. The course examines madness or mental illness as historically variable phenomena, asking how this perspective changes our understanding not only of madness but of history and even knowledge itself.

4. Societal Impact on Persons with Disabilities (OTD 532/RSC 514) – This course examines how various aspects of disability policy facilitate or restrict the fulfillment of roles associated with full participation in society by persons with disabilities. An on-line discussion format is used to explore a variety of areas including: (1) the development of disability policy; (2) the meanings of disability to persons with disabilities and others in society; (3) the involvement of persons with disabilities in shaping policy; (4) the cultural, political, and economic influences on disability; (5) the impact of disability on the fulfillment of a person’s societal roles; and (6) research issues related to the impact of society on persons with disabilities.

5. History of Women and Illness (History 568) – This course explores how women's illnesses have been experienced, perceived, and treated from the 17th through the 20th centuries (primarily in North America). This includes a variety of perspectives, from the girls and women who experience illness; to the female family members and healers who historically have treated them; and the predominantly male medical profession which rose to prominence by specializing, initially, in treating female maladies. Other healing professions, such as nursing and psychotherapy, are included as well. The course asks how the very nature of what constitutes "illness" itself has changed over time; for example, is pregnancy a natural part of the life course or an illness? In analyzing illness and health, the course integrates perspectives from disability history into more traditional histories of medicine. While historically based, the course will also draw upon interdisciplinary sources such as memoir, fiction, and anthropological and sociological studies.

6. Autistry (English 563) – Because story telling represents one of the most important social practices in which human beings of all cultural backgrounds participate, the recent explosion in autobiographies, memoirs and self-profiles composed by subjects on the autistic spectrum casts, or should cast, significant doubt upon the widespread popular and scientific assumption that the essence of ASD (autistic spectrum disorder) resides in a hardwired, hence incurable social incapacity or disconnection. Beginning with a critique of the cognitive, neurological and genetic evolutionist constructions of autism that promote the social dysfunction thesis, this course, “Autistry,” will examine the formal, thematic and stylistic features of recent, quasi-canonical autistic life-writing, with an eye to determining; (a) how social differences, rather than social deficits, may be understood to define the autistic condition; (b) what the sources—sensory, cognitive, hermeneutical—of those social differences might be; (c) how bio-political norms act to transform those differences into real social disabilities, while simultaneously underwriting the theories of autism that define it as innate, inherited and irremediable; and (d) what often stymied creative potential those social differences comprise. Taken in aggregate, the personal and developmental narratives to be studied indicate that autism manifests itself not in socio-symbolic default but in alternative modes of semiotic production and reception, an expressive/interpretive divergence from neuro-typical norms not unrelated to the difficult verbal and visual experimentation regularly prized in the aesthetic documents and artifacts of the last century.


1. History 578 - Disability History II – (Prerequisite – Disability History I) – This course is designed to give advanced students a deeper understanding of disability history and of the lived experience of persons with disabilities. It is organized thematically and topically, not as a chronological survey, and its perspectives are international and comparative. It may include topics such as institutionalization (and de-institutionalization and re-institutionalization), disability and industrialization, disability and eugenics/bio-ethics, disability and war, disability and social movement history, disability and culture/media.

2. American Studies 500 - Contemporary Cultural Theory: Biopolitics, Necropolitics, and the Management of the Body– Among a variety of approaches to literature, this course takes a disability studies approach to examine state-mandated forms of care, neglect and violation of bodies. It addresses primarily the latter half of the twentieth century and the contemporary period. We will discuss how dimensions of power operate to produce subjects multiply and unevenly along lines of race, gender, sexuality, and ability status. This course will be offered in the spring semester during odd-numbered years, and the foci will change from year to year. The material in this course will be of special interest to students who wish to specialize in post-1945 American literatures, ethnic studies (particularly Asian American or African American), and/or disability studies, but students from all fields are welcome and may find it useful to their own goals.

3. History 525/English 586 - Readings in the Cultural History of Science and Medicine – This seminar will provide an introduction to major historiographical issues and approaches in recent scholarly work on the history of science and medicine and in recent attempts to write cultural histories of specific facets of science and medicine. The course is intended to serve the needs of a broad range of students from history and from disciplines such as anthropology, literature, and disability studies, who have an interest in science, medicine, technical knowledge and practices, the body, sexuality, or related topics and their relationship to culture and society. Through specific assignments, reports, and a term paper attempts will be made to shape the course to the needs of individual students, both those specializing in the history of science or medicine and those whose major interests are in other aspects of history or in other disciplines, such as disability studies. Intensive and extensive readings on a variety of periods and places (chiefly, but not exclusively, focused upon Europe and America) from antiquity to the twentieth century will form the core of this course.

4. English 653 - Critical Theory: Narrating Human Rights – This course examines how human rights discourse, particularly narratives, constructs rights. In analyzing the rhetorical features of rights talk, seminar participants come to understand their roles in the distribution of rights, the difficulties of witnessing, the inherent paradoxes and inequities within rights debates, and new ways of interpreting rights.

5. Social Work 570 - Health and Disability Social Work – This course examines policy, theory, research and practice issues related to health and disabilities across the life span. The course focuses on problems of definition and policy-guided service provision in a variety of health settings utilizing trauma-informed, human rights perspectives when relevant. The course illustrates multiple roles that social workers take across settings when working with those with acute and chronic health problems. Central to this course is an understanding of historical policy formations at national, regional and local levels, particularly as they influence current practice. Students will examine multiple levels of response to deterioration in health and adaptive abilities. Students will develop evidence-based knowledge and skills associated with direct practice as well as critical advocacy roles to ensure access to services, reasonable accommodations, and legal remedies related to discrimination, oppression, and human rights violations for those with health related disabilities. The effect of social structural location and social situation will be examined as they influence access to health services.

6. Social Work 572 - Mental Health and Disability Social Work – In this course, students will examine policy, theory, research and practice issues related to mental health and disabilities across the life span. The course focuses on problem definition and service provision in mental health settings within the context of social policies and practices, including the multiple roles social workers take across settings when working with people with acute or severe and persistent mental health problems. Central to this course will be an understanding, from a trauma-informed, human rights perspective, of historical policy formations at national, regional and local levels, particularly as they influence current practice realities. Students will examine multiple levels of response to deterioration in mental health and adaptive abilities. Students will be provided with evidence-based knowledge and skills associated with direct practice and critical advocacy roles to ensure access to services, reasonable accommodations, and legal remedies related to discrimination, oppression, and human rights violations for those with mental health disabilities. The effect of social location and situation will be examined as they relate to access to mental health services.

7. Architecture 563 - Design for the Life Span Overview – Overview of major goals and approaches for design and planning for life-span needs, with special attention to older and disabled individuals. Students pursue selected research projects or work together on a class project.

8. Anthropology 584 - Transcultural Psychiatry – examines notions of behavioral health and illness across cultures. The course explores ways in which notions of normalcy and deviance are shaped historically and culturally, and the ways in which deviance is medicalized. The course surveys the major work on these subjects, and encourages each student to focus on special topics of interest to the student’s program, which in the past have ranged from the cultural plasticity of depression to disabilities in cultural context.

9. Anthropology 604 - Anthropology and Disability – This course is a graduate seminar on anthropological contributions to disability studies, an interdisciplinary field dealing with societal and cross-cultural attitudes toward impairment, illness, pain, and physical difference. The course presents ethnographic analysis of coping, adaptation strategies, and identity transformations by people whose impairments are culturally or medically labeled as a "difference that makes a difference." Additional topics include variable meanings of impairment, statuses and roles of people living with disability, and issues of cultural competence among professionals who deal with immigrants, refugees, and minority families needing disability services.

10. American Studies 500 - AIDS in the Americas – This seminar investigates through comparisons and contrasts, AIDS as a public policy issue and as it is reflected in cultural discourses throughout the Western Hemisphere.

11. Rehab Science (RSC) 570 - Culture and Disability 


Disability Studies Research Project (History 608) 6 units, or Internship in Disability Studies (History 609) 6 units – Students will have a choice of one option or the other for completing the capstone requirement during the second year of the program. Students will need to have the approval of the Director of the Center for Disability Studies before embarking on one option or the other.

A. HIS 608 - Disability Studies Research Project, 6 units – Under the direction of the Director of the Center for Disability Studies, two semesters will be spent finding a research topic on disability from the standpoint of Disability Studies and producing an original essay. It is expected that the first semester will be spent in guided, independent reading and research and the final semester of the program in writing the paper.

B. HIS 609 - Internship in Disability Studies, 6 units – Under the direction of the Director of the Center for Disability Studies, two semesters will be spent engaging in Disability Studies related "fieldwork." Typically, students volunteer with community-based advocacy organizations, arts programs, or other social and cultural programs, which in most cases are led by people with disabilities and their allies. Students are required to secure a volunteer position within an organization before they register for the course. A plan of action will be worked out collaboratively with the director of the Center for Disability Studies, the student, and the organization with which the student is volunteering.

Rationale for offering the existing Internship option to students who pursue the “Disability Studies” track/concentration under the Master of Arts in “Humanities - Interdisciplinary” degree program

An “internship” was formally approved in 2004 by the State Education Department as a capstone option under UB’s M.A. in “Humanities – Interdisciplinary” degree program. Internships provide students with meaningful professional experience working in their chosen fields, and the opportunity to integrate academic coursework with practical applications. Experience in a hands-on training program provides students with valuable insight into their future profession and the realities that surround the ever-changing needs of the job market. Also, internships provide access to facilities, organizational activities, and resources that offer a valuable complement to the regular course offerings.

Students in UB’s Master of Arts in the Humanities-Interdisciplinary programs can currently choose to complete a research paper/project, or a thesis, or an internship in partial fulfillment of their degree programs. Students who complete the “Disability Studies” concentration will only have the option to complete either an internship or a research paper/project. The internship option will allow students to integrate their course work and research with professional experience. Those planning to select this option must contact the Director of the Center for Disability Studies, in his or her capacity as director of the Master of Arts in the Humanities-Interdisciplinary (Disability Concentration) degree program for approval before registering.