The Syracuse Tradition

Poster: You gave us your dimes - now we want our rightsSince the early 1970s, Syracuse University programs and centers have been involved in a broad range of research, training, and advocacy efforts in the area of disability. Faculty and students in the School of Education have examined media portrayals and cultural stereotypes of people with disabilities, institutional abuse, the social construction of mental retardation, the history of mental retardation, public policy and developmental disabilities, school inclusion, and the experiences of people with disabilities and their families in the community. Much of the research at Syracuse has been based on qualitative or ethnographic research methods, and faculty have helped to popularize this research approach in education and human services.

Founded by the late Burton Blatt, the Center on Human Policy The Center on Human Policyat Syracuse emerged in the 1970s as one of the nation’s leading policy institutes on disability. In addition to research and training, the Center has played a leadership role in the movement to insure people with disabilities with their rightful place in the community. The Center advocated for deinstitutionalization, accessibility, school inclusion, parents’ rights, and self-advocacy long before these became popular trends in the field of disability.

In 1994, teacher training programs in Special Education merged with the School of Education’s Teaching & Leadership Program to promote the preparation of teachers competent to educate students in inclusive schools. Faculty associated with the sociology of disability and public policy became part of the Cultural Foundations of Education program. As part of this reorganization, the Disability Studies was established in Cultural Foundations for graduate level students.

The Syracuse University Disability Studies program focuses on disability as social phenomenon, social construct, metaphor, identity, and culture. Stimulated by the disability rights movement, Disability Studies has experienced a tremendous growth. Developments include the formation of the Society for Disability Studies, an international association devoted to promoting the field; publications, including Disability Studies Quarterly, Disability and Society, the Journal of Disability Policy Studies, and other relevant journals; and the development of new programs and courses in the field at universities across the U.S. and internationally.

Building on the pioneering work in the SU School of Education in the area of disability, the program is designed to help students examine disability as a social, cultural, and political phenomenon. Consistent with the Syracuse tradition, this program stands at the forefront of the development of the theoretical, research, educational, and advocacy models necessary to remove the legal, physical, policy, and attitudinal barriers that exclude people with disabilities from society.

In addition, social, cultural, and historical perspectives on disability have received increased attention from traditional disability associations and journals. The Syracuse University Disability  Studies program’s philosophy is based on these principles:

  • Disability Studies adopts a cross-disability perspective. Disability Studies seeks to examine the commonalties in the experiences of the diverse group of people who have been defined as disabled.
  • Disability Studies views disability as a social construct and people with disabilities as a minority group. This program focuses on social and cultural aspects of disability.
  • Disability Studies is interdisciplinary. Studies in this area draw on a variety of disciplines in order to understand the social, cultural, and political situation of people with disabilities.
  • Disability Studies recognizes the important role that family members play in the lives of many people with disabilities. Scholarship in this area includes inquires into the views and experiences of family members of people with developmental disabilities in particular. Of course, the voices of family members cannot be regarded as a substitute for the voices of people with intellectual disabilities themselves.
  • Disability Studies at Syracuse is designed to provide students with the skills, methods, and perspectives to play a variety of leadership roles in disability research, policy, and advocacy. Studies in this area are not designed to provide professional certification in direct services or clinical areas.