PhD in Disability Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago

Doctoral studies are available through an interdisciplinary PhD program in Disability Studies.

The PhD Program prepares scholars and researchers for leadership roles in the study of disability as a complex phenomenon. It is the first PhD program dedicated to Disability Studies in the United States and one of only a few in the world.

What is Disability Studies?

Until recently, the academy has enjoyed relative consensus regarding the nature of disability. All disciplines taking note of disability--including health professions, education, the social sciences, and the humanities--treated the phenomenon as an empirically measurable limitation in functioning, linked to an underlying physiological deficit or impairment, that prevents a person from performing (or appearing) typically. More recently, scholars have added perspectives that illustrate how disability emanates not from physiological or cognitive difference in isolation but in interaction with social values, practices, and structures. Instead of treating disability as simply inherent in individuals, the field of disability studies transforms the understanding of disability from an individual deficit to a complex byproduct of social, environmental, and biological forces. This perspective illuminates how individuals designated "disabled" are treated collectively in a manner that diminishes their economic, interpersonal, psychological, cultural, political, and physical well-being relegating them to membership in a socially disadvantaged group.

The UIC PhD program in Disability Studies promotes the development of new scholarly models with respect to our comprehension of disability. The study of disability is contextualized by the social, cultural, and historical dynamics that have identified an array of human differences as exclusively detrimental. Part of this transformative intellectual approach involves the education of disabled and non-disabled academicians, researchers, policy experts, and clinicians who will join with disabled people in the community as active challengers of oppressive institutions and environments. The program examines how addressing disability in its full complexity can promote the full participation, self-determination, and equal citizenship of people with disabilities in society.

In order to achieve these goals, UIC's disability studies program recognizes disability as a complex phenomenon existing at the intersection of human differences and social values. Disability studies scholars view disability, not simply as a defect inside a person, but as a complex relationship between society and people who function differently from the norm. The UIC PhD program in disability studies promotes an awareness of disability that supports individuals in shaping their identities and lives. Moreover, the program examines how services that support persons with disabilities along with social and political change can reduce sources of disempowerment.