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?