Class Profile: Disabilities class reteaches notions of privilege

“Disabilities.” This word can resonate many different ways for different people. For associate professor at the Ella Cline Shear School of Education Linda Ware it is a layered word that must be examined deeper through a wider array of disciplines.

This belief is what sprung the creation of her rather unconventional INTD 207: Interdisciplinary Disability Studies. “Students originally enrolled by word of mouth,” Ware said. “They heard that it was going to be a very unorthodox class.”

Students in many different academic departments were drawn to sign-up. In this semester’s class alone, Ware’s roster represents everyone from an adolescent education major, an English major, an anthropology major, to a retired member of the Albany Office of Disability Service.

“I don’t scare them,” Ware said. “All of my students are well-read and intelligent; they are the type that love to push themselves.”

Offered for its fourth semester offered at Geneseo, INTD 207’s class description states that, “Disability studies refers generally to the examination of disability as a social, cultural and political phenomenon.” That is, rather than looking at things from a “clinical, medical or therapeutic perspective,” the class focuses on disability and its relation to the wider society.

“I seek to have my students interrogate themselves when it comes to disability,” Ware said. “Once you come to realize where you stand on an issue, you locate where you are on that spectrum and then you can then realize that what you have been told in the past is a story.” Topics in the class range from but are not limited to neoliberal policy decisions by welfare states to international policies with respect to human rights for people with disabilities.

One of the goals of the class is to educate people to understand that disability studies need to be both further examined in education and humanities, and applied to numerous disciplines.

Ripples are already starting to appear from the tidal wave that this class aims to cause. With the help of assistant professor of dance studies Mark Broomfield, the class brought wheelchair bound dancer Alice Sheppard to perform on campus. As a result, Broomfield’s students this year have plans to choreograph a dance number based off what they learned from Sheppard’s performance.

“Here, you see an example of the status of disabilities being examined through dance,” Ware said. “You also see a professor who recognizes that this is something that should be worked into his discipline.”

INTD 207’s textbook Cultural Locations of Disability is written by a compilation of literary theorists with whom Ware often publishes her work. “Although I tend to focus on disability studies with education, I am always looking to maintain a bridge between my interdisciplinary work,” Ware said.