PhD in Disability Studies

Promoting the full participation, self-determination and equal citizenship of people with disabilities

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.

UIC’s PhD in disability studies program addresses disability in its full complexity, promoting an awareness of disability that supports individuals in shaping their identities and lives. We examine how support services and social and political change can reduce sources of disempowerment.

Our program is truly an interdisciplinary experience, with faculty, researchers, and students coming from backgrounds in health, education, assistive technology, social sciences and humanities. We recognize the inherent tensions that exist between therapeutic, medical and social models of disability, but acknowledge these differences as fertile ground for the development of disability studies as an integrative knowledge base.

Disability studies at UIC offers a unique opportunity to study the multilayered, interactional dynamics of disability.

Stats and Facts

Screen grab of Tamar Heller speaking in Going Home documentary
Advocate for small community living
Tamar Heller argues for the majority of Illinois' institutions for persons with disabilities be closed immediately in "Going Home"
$6.5 million
in active research grants and contracts during fiscal year 2016
Ryan Parrey-Munger head shot
Ryan Parrey-Munger '13 is exploring interactions between people with and without disabilities
Luca Badetti head shot
Luca Badetti '15 sees similarities among differences
interdisciplinary disability studies PhD program in the country

Your career

Students enroll in our program for a variety of reasons and with a variety of goals for when they graduate, including academic positions, disability policy and advocacy, and visual or performing arts.

A PhD in disability studies gives you advanced knowledge about complex social implications of disability. You’ll develop the skills to lead research, policy analysis, and program evaluation and development in ways that best address the perspectives of people with disabilities.

Some of our alumni hold positions as:

  • Director of Long-Term Services and Supports Policy, National Council on Aging (Joe Caldwell)
  • Director of Research and Evaluation, Arc of the United States (Amie Lulinski)
  • Lecturer and acting director of the Disability Studies Certificate ProgramEastern Washington University (Ryan Parrey Munger)
  • Academic staff, Trinity College Dublin and Director, Trinity Centre for People with Intellectual Disabilities (Natasha Spassiani)
  • Assistant scientist, Department of Health Outcomes and Policy at the University of Florida (Vijay Vasudevan)

Learn from the best

  • Carol Gill head shot

    Carol Gill

    Conducting social science research, training and community service projects that invite support and authentic direction by people with disabilities

  • Sarah Parker Harris

    Sarah Parker Harris

    Focusing on comparative and national disability policy and legislation, employment, entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship

  • James Charlton

    James Charlton

    Internationally-recognized disability studies scholar and activist, the author of Nothing About Us Without Us: Disability Oppression and Empowerment

Understanding by doing

Our collaborative network gives you the unique opportunity to build experience by partnering with independent living centers and other disability community organizations during your time at UIC.

When you become part of the Department of Disability and Human Development, you join the Association of University Centers on Disabilities—a national organization that supports and promotes a network of university-based interdisciplinary programs. Our diverse faculty, staff, students, and collaborators includes people with disabilities, family members, organizations, academic departments and other universities in Illinois, nationally and internationally.

Engage with the community through collaboration and field experiences in the disability sector, participate in research or teaching through an assistantship, and share your knowledge by training others and presenting at conferences. Our students conduct research across impairment, clinical, social, cultural, ethical, and policy perspectives, and produce scholarly publications and contribute to the scientific knowledge base on disability.

Some of our past students have worked in policy positions at legal and government centers in Washington, D.C., learning about policy-making processes that affect the lives of disabled citizens and their families. Others have traveled internationally to conduct research, present papers, and participate in service initiatives as they learn how the disability studies knowledge base can expand to incorporate experiences of disability in many cultures.

Headshot of Maris and Maitha together smiling

We're here for you

Still wondering what a PhD in disability studies can do for you? Reach out to DHD’s Office of Student Affairs and get your questions answered.

DHD’s Office of Student Affairs: