Disability Studies is a multi-disciplinary academic field which promotes a "person-centered" approach to the study of disability, incorporating overlapping perspectives from the social sciences, humanities, science, social policy and the law. As distinct from the prevailing medical model of disability, the social construction model utilized by Disability Studies asserts that disability is not inherent in the individual as a deficit, but rather, is a set of physical and social barriers that often constrain people. This strength-based approach supports a paradigm in which disability is regarded as a basic aspect of human experience.
CUNY’s School of Professional Studies offers Disability Studies programs through an online bachelor's degree, a Graduate Certificate in Disability Studies, and a Master of Arts in Disability Studies. The Office of the University Dean helped to implement this new 30-credit master’s degree which launched in spring 2009 as the first stand-alone M.A. in Disability Studies in the country. Undergraduate students can also pursue individualized degrees in Disability Studies through CUNY BA and Lehman College.
These programs are designed to prepare a new generation of service providers, researchers, advocates, and policy makers to be leaders in community-based or governmental agencies as they evolve in the 21st century, as well as to become more skilled and insightful administrators, advocates, educators, scholars or social service professionals. They will also be equipped to protect and further the rights of people with disabilities and will have the knowledge and the tools to impact broader society.
The Office’s JFK, Jr. Institute supports Disability Studies through various initiatives such as a Disability Studies Lecture Series and scholarship money for students. Historically, the Office of the University Dean has also administered undergraduate certificate programs in Disability Studies at Lehman College, NYC College of Technology and LaGuardia Community College. The University Dean for Health and Human Services served as the Executive Officer of the Society for Disability Studies from 2007 to 2010.
CUNY's Certificate in Wellness Coaching was a non-credit certificate program offered by the Office that prepared students to apply the principles of wellness and wellness coaching to their own life, as well as in their work environment and community. This certificate is designed to provide students with the foundational knowledge and tools to encourage self-awareness and lifestyle change among people living with mental health disabilities who are experiencing co-occurring health issues. Eighteen students who work as staff in mental health agencies began the Certificate in fall 2011 following a successful pilot cohort in spring 2010.
Wellness, Recovery and Support was the topic for a Disability Studies Lecture Series event held on November 14, 2011. Renowned speakers included Dr. Neal Cohen (Hunter College), Dr. Hunter McQuistion (St.Luke's & Roosevelt Hospital/Columbia University), Peggy Swarbrick <pdf> (CSPNJ), and Jody Silver <pdf> (NYC DOHMH).