Teaching Disability Studies: A New Journal is Launched
By BETH HARPAZ
A new publication offers resources for educators in the growing field of disability studies. The Journal of Teaching Disability Studies has just been launched by Mariette Bates and colleagues from CUNY’s School of Professional Studies. The peer-reviewed academic journal is online in an open access format.
“I wanted to create something where those teaching disability studies had a place to publish research, ideas, assignments that worked (or didn’t), and generally to think and write about disability studies pedagogy,” said Bates in an email interview.
Bates, who is academic director of disability studies at SPS and co-chair of the CUNY Disability Studies Scholars group, notes that the number of disability studies programs in the U.S. has more than doubled in the past 15 years. The field ranges from courses and certificate programs to master’s and Ph.Ds. It’s still emerging as an academic discipline, and it’s “incredibly broad,” said Bates, but almost all the programs “encourage critical thinking about disability and society and incorporate social justice ideas in the curriculum.” The journal reflects those themes.
One article in the first issue surveys 12 autobiographies by individuals on the autism spectrum to analyze their usefulness as teaching tools. The idea for the research originated with a student’s question: “What do people with autism think about being autistic?” These autobiographies provide that perspective, according to the article’s co-authors, Susan Longtin, a Brooklyn College professor, and Elyse Bell Opila, a speech pathologist and BC alumna.
Among other things, “autie-biographies” like John Elder Robison’s Look Me in the Eye offer positive ways of looking at traits that might otherwise be characterized as deficits, Longtin and Bell write. A firsthand account of childhood play might emphasize evocative sensory memories rather than problems related to social interaction. Obsessive behavior might be seen instead as a deeply focused interest that could be nurtured into a talent, passion, or hobby. These firsthand accounts also offer insight into the authors’ everyday coping strategies: “Conversations must be scripted, facial expressions rehearsed, personalities summoned,” as one author quoted in the article put it.
Also in the inaugural issue of The Journal of Teaching Disability Studies are articles about inclusive teaching strategies for a disabilities studies course with large enrollment; integrating disability studies pedagogy in teacher education; difference and disability in children’s books; and a graphic novel about hearing impairment called El Deafo.
The Journal of Teaching Disability Studies is published on the CUNY Academic Commons, an academic social network for the entire 25-campus CUNY community that has over 19,000 members. The Commons is used as a publication space by a number of open-access journals, and it is also used widely for teaching, enabling connections across disciplines and campuses, publishing research, and building collaborative resources.