According to a recent census, 53 million adults in the United States — nearly one fifth of the country — live with a disability. NYU students now have an option to study this issue through the new Steinhardt minor called Disability Studies.
This is a cross-school minor that combines activism and education, and according to the website, its interdisciplinary approach aims to educate students about the historical, social and legal factors that affect people with disabilities.
Steinhardt associate professor Mara Mills helped create this new track of study because she thinks that it is important for NYU students to have this educational opportunity.
“Disability is everywhere in literature and the media, but it’s often portrayed in biased and metaphorical terms,” Dr. Mills said. “Disability studies counters those misrepresentations, challenges stigma and works for greater accessibility and justice at both the local and international scales.”
She said that students pursuing this minor get a chance to enroll in classes pertaining to a variety of subjects: engineering, anthropology, media studies, bioethics, public policy and even art.
Anthropology professor Faye Ginsburg has a daughter with a rare disorder, so helping to develop the program was personal for her.
“We feel like there are a lot of people on this campus who are interested,” Ginsburg said. “We are continuing to hold events and do other things to try and make the campus a more disability friendly place. My personal mission has been the bathrooms — the bathrooms are really bad on campus.”
She said that even the bathrooms marked with the universal sign for disabilities are not universally accessible for people with disabilities. Ginsburg said that even if somewhere is wheelchair-friendly, that does not equate to equal accessibility for someone who cannot use their hands.
Therefore, incorporating various schools and areas of discipline help consider and combat such issues. While disability studies is a new minor, the courses taught under this new umbrella have existed for years.
Tandon graduate Shivani Desai is now a medical school student, and Desai said that she was impressed by the experiential nature of the disabilities studies course she took during her NYU undergraduate tenure.
“The classroom was a very good experience, primarily because you got to see how people with disabilities live,” Desai said. “We even had an opportunity to visit the center at Harlem to see how they engage in the day-to-day life.”
Her class was with Allan Goldstein, a senior lecturer in Tandon. Goldstein also helped develop this new minor, and he said that having a sibling with an intellectual disability heavily defined his life.
“What we’re trying to get rid of is the pity and try to develop empathy and show that having a disability is not a tragedy — it is just a different way of living,” Goldstein said. “It’s a cutting-edge discipline.”
A version of this article appeared in the Oct. 24 print edition. Email Herman Lee at [email protected]