By Daniel J. Vance
You probably didn't know disability had an academic angle.
"We publish the only scholarly journal focused on disability studies," said Beth Haller, co-editor of Disabilities Studies Quarterly (DSQ), a publication of the Society for Disabilities Studies. "In addition to scholarly research we publish fiction, poetry, essays, commentaries, and book and film reviews. The study of disability is a young, growing discipline and our journal is its voice."
The U.S. has about 20 academic programs in disability studies at colleges such as Syracuse, Toledo, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Northern Arizona, Southern Maine, and Illinois-Chicago. Disability Studies Quarterly is the chief outlet for college professors publishing disability-related research. Moreover, it's a "competitive" publication, which means not everything submitted gets published. Social scientists and humanities scholars, disability rights activists, creative writers, and others concerned about disability issues read and contribute.
"There are still people who don't realize that disability studies even exists as a college major," said Haller, a 42-year-old Towson University journalism professor, who became hooked on the field while finishing a graduate project at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C., the nation's leading institution of higher education for deaf and hard of hearing students. "It was the early '90s and the Americans with Disabilities Act was being passed. I was interviewing a deaf person and using sign language," she said. Haller specializes in news media images of people with disabilities.
As for the journal, "we have themed editions," she said. "Our most recent one was on children's books from picture books to teen literature and focused on the portrayal of disability. We had research and commentary contributors from Spain, Canada, the U.S. and Australia."
In searching the Internet prior to publishing that edition she found almost no information on the topic. "That was a real surprise," she said. "I didn't realize until then that we were breaking new ground." Upcoming editions will be themed around issues like higher education and disabilities, legal issues and disabilities, and disability rights in medical settings.
Disabilities Studies Quarterly began 1980 and is published by the 300-member Society for Disabilities Studies, an interdisciplinary organization of scholars and disability activists. This June they meet in St. Louis, where members will present papers, attend and lead seminars, network, and a few even exhibit art.