Society for Disability Studies

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The Society for Disability Studies (SDS) is the only scholarly society devoted to disability studies as a field.

From the SDS website: About SDS


Mission Statement

The Society for Disability Studies (SDS) is an international non-profit organization that promotes the exploration of disability through research, artistic production, and teaching. Disability Studies encourages perspectives that place disability in social, cultural, and political contexts. Through our work we seek to augment understanding of disability in all cultures and historical periods, to promote greater awareness of the experiences of disabled people, and to contribute to social change.

History and Founders of SDS

Founded in 1982 as the Section for the Study of Chronic Illness, Impairment, and Disability (SSCIID), the organization was renamed the Society for Disability Studies in 1986. The Society maintains affiliation status with the Western Social Science Association (WSSA) through its Chronic Disease and Disability Section. SDS currently has several hundred members from the United States and other countries.


Media Coverage

1. "Disability as Field of Study?" by Anthony Ramirez, New York Times , December 21, 1997
2. "Pioneering Field of Disability Studies Challenges Established Approaches and Attitudes" by Peter Monaghan, Chronicle of Higher Education , January 23, 1998

General Guidelines for Disability Studies Program

In 2004, the Board of Directors asked the SDS Policy Committee to draft a list of guidelines for emerging programs in Disability Studies. The Policy Committee submitted these guidelines to the SDS membership listserv for review and feedback. Incorporating input from the membership, the Policy Committee submitted the following guidelines to a vote at the Business Meeting held at the SDS conference in St. Louis. These preliminary guidelines were approved by a majority of the membership in attendance at that meeting on June 5, 2004. For further information about the guidelines or the approval process please contact Policy Committee Chair, Catherine Kudlick at cjkudlick@ucdavis.edu.

Print these Guidelines (MS-Word file)

Guidelines for Disability Studies

The Society for Disability Studies (SDS) invites scholars from a variety of disciplines to bring their talents and concerns to the study of disability as a key aspect of human experience on a par with race, class, gender, sex, and sexual orientation. As a group of committed activists, academics, artists, practitioners, and various combinations of these, we believe that the study of disability has important political, social, and economic import for society as a whole, including both disabled and non-disabled people. Not only can this work help elevate the place of disabled people within society, but it can also add valuable perspective on a broad range of ideas, issues, and policies beyond the disability community, and beyond the study of service provision or the training of providers. Accordingly, we offer the following working guidelines for any program that describes itself as “Disability Studies”:

  • It should be interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary. Disability sits at the center of many overlapping disciplines in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences. Programs in Disability Studies should encourage a curriculum that allows students, activists, teachers, artists, practitioners, and researchers to engage the subject matter from various disciplinary perspectives.
  • It should challenge the view of disability as an individual deficit or defect that can be remedied solely through medical intervention or rehabilitation by "experts" and other service providers. Rather, a program in Disability Studies should explore models and theories that examine social, political, cultural, and economic factors that define disability and help determine personal and collective responses to difference. At the same time, DS should work to de-stigmatize disease, illness, and impairment, including those that cannot be measured or explained by biological science. Finally, while acknowledging that medical research and intervention can be useful, Disability Studies should interrogate the connections between medical practice and stigmatizing disability.
  • It should study national and international perspectives, policies, literature, culture, and history with an aim of placing current ideas of disability within their broadest possible context. Since attitudes toward disability have not been the same across times and places, much can be gained by learning from these other experiences.
  • It should actively encourage participation by disabled students and faculty, and should ensure physical and intellectual access.
  • It should make it a priority to have leadership positions held by disabled people; at the same time it is important to create an environment where contributions from anyone who shares the above goals are welcome.
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