LivAbility Magazine

Edition 17 | Summer 2019

Theresa Devine

The program becomes just the third in the Southwest

Story by Summer Sorg
Photo by Summer Sorg

This fall, Arizona State University (ASU) is launching a new Disability Studies bachelor’s degree program.

Similar programs are rare across the southwest, and it will be the first-of-its-kind in Arizona.

Northern Arizona University (NAU) offers a disability studies minor and the University of Arizona (UA) offers majors in different subjects related to disability.

Disability studies certificate programs are common in universities across the Southwest, and there are even a number of disability studies minors offered. However, only three universities in the Southwest offer degree programs, of bachelor’s or above, in disability studies: California Baptist University (offers a Master’s in Disability Studies), California State University in Sacramento (offers Master’s in Disability Studies) and Utah State University (offers disability studies doctoral program).

“I think it’s an important enough subject, and it has so many nuances to it, that it really justifies an entire degree,” said Theresa Devine, associate professor at ASU, who will be teaching Disability Aesthetics in the program this fall.

Devine has been advocating for a disability studies bachelor’s degree at ASU since 2012.

Illustration by Theresa Devine advertises ASU's Disability Studies Program

“This is something that really needs to happen. It’s a civil rights movement,” she said.

The program will offer courses ranging from social and cultural analysis to science and literature, focusing specifically on the social-cultural model, working on the environment rather than the individual.

“Professors from many different backgrounds have stepped forward to give a real intersectional understanding of disability and how it exists within identity studies,” Devine said.

The outline of the program was significantly influenced by the work of 2015 ASU graduate student, Greggory Ohannessian, who researched and wrote his applied project around a proposal for a disability studies program at the university.

“The medical model is all about trying to fix the person with the disability, trying to find if there’s any treatments and cures,” Ohannessian said. “The social model of disability is more about finding the social and environmental barriers that prevent a person with [a] disability from interacting with their community, and also getting the things that they need.”

Four years after he made a proposal to ASU, the program is finally being enacted.

“The issue of disability has become more visible,” said Majia Nadesan, professor in the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at ASU. “There’s been a lot of interest in the program from community members.” Nadesan is on the board of directors who worked to make the program a reality, and she will also be teaching a course in the program called disability studies and communication advocacy.

Nadesan said the program’s material is relevant–if not vital–in almost every field of study, from engineering to education.

“It’s not just for people who are disabled, or who are interested in disability, because it touches us all,” she said. “… [There’s] respect for the fact that when people have a disability, that doesn’t disable them from all kinds of incredible achievements.”

It’s just about providing the right accommodations.

“Those [accommodations] make everybody win … It’s not a zero-sum game to give [those who need it] an accommodation,” Nadesan said.

Louis Mendoza, director of the School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies at ASU expects to see the program evolve as more students create the demand for a greater range of courses. Ultimately, he hopes it creates advocates.

“There was a strong need for this … Through having a more complex understanding of this community, we can look at it through the lens of empowerment. That is, how can we empower people with information–with skills–to make change or to live better lives.”

Summer Sorg

Summer Sorg

Summer Sorg is a student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication specializing in photography and digital journalism. She claims copy editing is “therapeutic” or whatever and probably needs a better hobby.

Read more by Summer Sorg.