Shifting Perspectives: Enhancing Healthcare Professionals' Awareness Through a Disability Studies Undergraduate Curriculum

Kathleen McGoldrick, Deborah Zelizer, Sharon A. Ray


Disability Studies has experienced steady growth in the humanities, the social sciences, and education departments of a growing number of United States colleges and universities. One area of study that has remained static is undergraduate health science, where the number of schools offering a degree in disability studies has grown slightly from two in 2009 (Cushing & Smith, 2009b; Taylor & Zubal-Ruggieri, 2013) to four in 2015 (Zubal-Ruggieri, 2015). Some disability scholars believe that health science students are missing out on an opportunity to incorporate this perspective into their outlook and approach to disability. Longmore (1991) believes that "students interested in healthcare . . . need to have the opportunity to study this [disability] in the same way that they have the opportunity to study women's history or African American history or Asian history" (Stanford University News Service, Silent Screen Villains section, para.12).  This opportunity can shape a group of healthcare professionals who view disability from a unique individual perspective. The purpose of this survey research study was to examine alumni self-perception of the impact of completing a one-semester (16 credit) disability studies concentration in an undergraduate health science major. Fifty-one alumni from a New York area public research 1 level university who graduated between 2006 and 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Health Science and a concentration in Disability Studies were surveyed to examine their perception of the helpfulness of the curriculum in four areas: practice and/or post-graduate study, comfort level interacting with people with disability, confidence level in ability to work with people with disability, and sensitivity and awareness of disability issues. This survey research study used descriptive statistics to analyze the responses to 10 Likert questions. The paper also includes comments from one open-ended question that allowed respondents to add additional thoughts and comments. The results strongly indicated that the health science alumni perceived a positive increase in the four focus areas as a result of completing the disability studies concentration.


Disability Studies, Health Science, Undergraduate Programs, Disability Studies Curriculum

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