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Critical disability studies

A dynamic academia has evolved around disability, with roots in the human rights movements of the 1960s.

A distinction emerged from the need to contest the prevalence of the 'medical' model of understanding disability; this model portrays disability narrowly as a negative life state in need of solution. Early disability academics, instead, talked about the 'social' model of disability. This important phase of thinking directed attention away from individual circumstance. This has allowed more useful focus to be placed on the disabling aspects of our environments and on the social attitudes which perpetuate restrictive understandings of human capability.

These initial developments have led on to more rounded and human-based understandings of disability experience. Recent critical disability studies developments address the wider socio-cultural context in which disability and non-disability operate, interacting with subject areas as diverse as law, history, science, politics and the arts. This disability-attuned thinking offers rigorous yet practical insights into complex human issues.

Disability scholars are located in several local universities in the Sydney area, including UNSW and the University of Sydney.

The following publications provide an excellent introduction to scholarly disability thought:

  • Davis, L. J. (ed.) 2010, The Disability Studies Reader, 3rd edn, Routledge, New York.
  • Crutchfield, S. & Epstein, M. (eds) 2000, Points of Contact: Disability, Art, and Culture, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI.
  • Pothier, D. & Devlin, R. (eds) 2006, Critical Disability Theory: Essays in Philosophy, Politics, Policy, and Law, University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver.
  • Snyder, S. L. & Brueggemann, B. J. and Garland-Thomson, R. (eds) 2002, Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities, The Modern Language Association of America, New York.
  • Snyder, S. L. & Mitchell, D. T. 2006, Cultural Locations of Disability, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.