Skip to content. | Skip to navigation


Mission/Statement of Purpose of Disability Studies in Education

The mission of the Disability Studies in Education (DSE) Special Interest Group  (SIG) of the American Education Research Association (AERA) is to promote the understanding of disability from a social model perspective drawing on social, cultural, historical, discursive, philosophical, literary, aesthetic, artistic, and other traditions to challenge medical, scientific, and psychological models of disability as they relate to education.


To engage in research, policy, and action that

  • contextualize disability within political and social spheres
  • privilege the interest, agendas, and voices of people labeled with disability/disabled people
  • promote social justice, equitable and inclusive educational opportunities, and full and meaningful access to all aspects of society for people labeled with disability/disabled people
  • assume competence and reject deficit models of disability

The purpose of Disability Studies in Education is: to provide an organizational vehicle for networking among Disability Studies researchers in education; and to increase the visibility and influence of Disability Studies among all educational researchers.


Approaches to Theory, Research, & Practice in DSE

Examples of approaches to theory and DSE may include:

  • Contrasts medical, scientific, psychological understandings with social and experiential understandings of disability 
  • Predominantly focuses on political, social, cultural, historical, social, and individual understandings of disability 
  • Supports the education of students labeled with disabilities in non-segregated settings from a civil rights stance. 
  • Engages work that discerns the oppressive nature of essentialized/categorical/medicalized naming of disability in schools, policy, institutions, and the law while simultaneously recognizing the political power that may be found in collective and individual activism and pride through group-specific claims to disabled identities and positions 
  • Recognizes the embodied/aesthetic experiences of people whose lives/selves are made meaningful as disabled, as well as troubles the school and societal discourses that position such experiences as "othered" to an assumed normate 
  • Includes disabled people in theorizing about disability 

Examples of approaches to research and DSE may include:

  • Welcomes scholars with disabilities and non-disabled scholars working together 
  • Recognizes and privileges the knowledge derived from the lived experience of people with disabilities 
  • Whenever possible adheres to an emancipatory stance (for example, working with people with disabilities as informed participants or co-researchers, not "subjects") 
  • Welcomes intradisciplinary approaches to understanding the phenomenon of disability, e.g. with educational foundations, special education, etc. 
  • Cultivates interdisciplinary approaches to understanding the phenomenon of disability, e.g. interfacing with multicultural education, the humanities, social sciences, philosophy, cultural studies, etc. 
  • Challenges research methodology that objectifies, marginalizes, and oppresses people with disabilities. 

Examples of approaches to practice and DSE may include:

  • Disability primarily recognized and valued as natural part of human diversity 
  • Disability and inclusive education 
  • Disability culture and identity as part of a multicultural curriculum 
  • Disability Rights Movement studied as part of the civil rights movement 
  • Disability history and culture and the contributions of disabled people as integral to all aspects of the curriculum 
  • Supporting disabled students in the development of a positive disability identity


Future Possibilities

While Disability Studies stretches back for almost thirty years, DSE is a relatively new field, not yet a decade old. Bearing this in mind, scholars in DSE have articulated some areas of further potential study. These include:

  • Constructing a new discourse of disability in education that emphasizes disability in its socio-political contexts and that is respectful of disabled people. 
  • Connections, overlaps, and dissonance between DSE and special education 
  • Tensions, paradoxes, contradictions, and reticence within education toward conceptualizations of diversity that include disability 
  • An intersectional approach to understanding disability at the interstices of class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, etc. 
  • Explicit and tangible examples of ways in which DSE under girds classroom practices. 

Source of text:

Note: introductory paragraph slightly modified from original source.

Document Actions
Disability Studies in Education Conference 2012: CONTEMPLATING DIS/ABILITY STUDIES IN EDUCATION THROUGHOUT LIFE: IN SCHOOL, AND BEYOND website contact: webmaster