The Future of Disability Studies

The study of disability engages some of the most pressing debates of our time, questions about the beginning and end of life, prenatal testing, abortion, euthanasia, eugenics, accommodation in schools, public transportation and the workplace, technologies for the medical correction and “cure” of the non-normative body, disease, wartime injuries, post-traumatic stress, and healthcare. These questions could not be more relevant, given that people with disabilities are the largest minority group in the United States, and that everyone who lives long enough will eventually become disabled. But beyond the numbers, the study of disability matters because it forces us to interrogate charged ethical and political questions about the meaning of aesthetics and cultural representation, bodily identity, and dynamics of social inclusion and/or exclusion.

The Future of Disability Studies approaches disability as an embodied condition, a mutable historical phenomenon, and a social, political, and cultural identity; it explores some of the key debates within Disability Studies and will identify new directions for the future of the field. Among other questions, we will ask: How might we complicate the opposition between medical and social models of disability? What are the grounds for productive dialogue and intersection between Disability studies and Medical Humanities? How can we reconcile a commitment to the autonomy and self-representation of people with disabilities with the commitment to include people with the severest forms of intellectual and physical disability? How can Disability Studies further understand its relationship to other phenomena of embodied identity, such as race, ethnicity, and gender? How should Disability studies approach scientific developments in genetics, new reproductive technologies, augmentative communication devices, prosthetics etc.? How can the study of disability cast light on political debates over about healthcare, war, and education policy? And how is our consideration of these dynamics complicated and enhanced by putting them in historical and/or transnational perspective?

October 1, 2015 to October 2, 2015
A symposium to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, The Future of Disability Studies project, and the publication of Keywords for Disability Studies.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Ron Suskind spoke at Columbia in March about pursuing a demanding career in investigative journalism while raising his autistic son Owen. 

As part of the Heyman Center for the Humanities Disciplines Series:

Evaluation, Value, and Evidence, authors Alison Piepmeier, George Estreich, and Rachel Adams take up many of the questions raised in the November 2013 event on "Genes, Children, and Ethics" (featuring Michael Berube, Faye Ginsberg, and Rayna Rapp) in their discussion of "Parenting, Narrative, and Our Genetic Futures." Jordana Mendelson will chair.

Cosponsored by the Future of Disability Studies project.

Please join the Institute for Research on Women and Gender and The Center for American Studies as we celebrate the recent publishing successes of our Project Directors and affiliated faculty:

Evan is a young man with Down Syndrome who lives with his mother in a poor, working-class town hit hard by the recent economic recession.  When he unexpectedly comes into a large amount of money, Evan uses it to romantically pursue Candy, a girl from town whom he has loved since high school.  Candy, now a barely-employed single mom, is facing financial debt, possible eviction, and the inability to rid herself of Russ, her abusive and volatile ex-boyfriend.

This talk investigates the idea of biofuturity within modernism, focusing specifically on the figure of male maternity in Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood. Although the figure of the pregnant male occurs in ancient and classical literature it surfaces significantly among modernist works–Joyce’s Ulysses, Pound’s Cantos, Freud’s Schreber case–at a moment when biological life was being re-imagined through the optic of eugenic science and comparative anatomy.

A talk by Tobin Siebers (Department of English, University of Michigan) with a response by Elizabeth Leake (Department of Italian, Columbia University)

This panel will explore the the conflicts and common ground between two fields that have often been in tension with one another.  Speakers will be asked to share their insights into this tension, identifying spaces of possibility where the two might intersect/collaborate/learn from one another.


October 6, 2011

We begin our project with a panel of students, faculty, and staff who discuss the ways the university has both accommodated and excluded people with disabilities.  What are some of the surprising and innovative ways that Columbia has sought to include people with disabilities in its community?  Conversely, how has it managed to maintain ADA compliance, while creating an unwelcoming environment for people with disabilities?  Our campus will serve as a starting place for a broader discussion about disability, access, and higher education.