PhD in Disability Studies

Promoting social justice, self-determination and the full participation 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.

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

Content Section

Stats and Facts

Our award winning faculty, staff and students are being recognized for their achievements and excellence in the field
Screen grab of Tamar Heller speaking in Going Home documentary
Advocate for small community living
Tamar Heller argues for moving people from Illinois' institutions for persons with disabilities to community settings.
interdisciplinary disability studies PhD program in the country

Interdisciplinary Experience

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.

I really benefitted from the interdisciplinary nature of the program, which gave me new ways of understanding and experiencing disability.
Jenna Heffron  |  PhD ‘16

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.

  • headshot of Ryan Parrey-Munger

    Ryan Parrey-Munger '13

    Ryan is exploring interactions between people with and without disabilities

  • Joe Caldwell in front of the US Capitol Building

    Joe Caldwell ’05

    Joe is applying research to make a difference in people’s lives

  • headshot of Luca Badetti

    Luca Badetti '15

    Luca sees similarities among differences

Learn from the best

  • Joy Hammel headshot

    Joy Hammel

    An internationally recognized leader, scholar and educator in disparities in social participation among people with disabilities

  • Lennard Davis headshot

    Lennard Davis

    A leading scholar of disability, literary and cultural studies

  • Fabricio Balcazar headshot

    Fabricio Balcazar

    Researching the development of effective strategies for enhancing consumer empowerment, entrepreneurship, and personal effectiveness among individuals with disabilities

DHD Connections

Our program provides you with the opportunity to embrace interdisciplinary education beyond the classroom and link to the disability community.  By joining DHD you will become a part of our collaborative network of diverse faculty, staff, students, and partners including people with disabilities, family members, organizations, academic departments and universities in Illinois, nationally and internationally.  Build your experience through DHD connections:

  • Engage with the community through collaboration and field experiences in the disability sector
  • Participate in research or teaching through an assistantship
  • Share your knowledge by training others and presenting at conferences
  • Produce scholarly publications that 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.

PhD student Drew standing in front of bookshelves of documents

Drew Egli visits the Wolfensberger Archives

DHD PhD student Drew Egli was provided with the opportunity to visit the Wolfensberger Archives in Omaha as part of a collaboration with the Nebraska UCEDD (the Munroe-Meyer Institute) and the UNMC library.

Learn more about Drew's experience
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: