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Critical Disability Studies

This guide will orient you to disability studies research and connect you with resources. Use this resource to find research strategies, articles, reference sources, books, and more.

What is Critical Disability Studies?

Critical Disability Studies is an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary field that approaches disability as a social and cultural category, a lived experience, and an analytical frame. It thus expands understandings of disability and people with disabilities across diverse geographical and temporal contexts. According to the Encyclopedia of American Disability History, "disability is not a characteristic that exists in the person so defined, but a construct that finds its meaning in a social and cultural context.” Critical Disability Studies explores issues of identity, representation, access, citizenship, technology, knowledge, and power—among other topics—and understands disability as inextricably tied to other social forces and identities, including gender, sexuality, class, and race.

Challenges of Disability Studies Research

The interdisciplinary nature of disability studies

  • Disability Studies is interdisciplinary.
  • You will need to learn to distinguish between medical, scientific, historical, and sociological treatments of disability and find sources that fit in with your research framework. This can take some experience.

Terminology may be offensive and inaccurate

  • Current and historical research may use outdated terminology.
  • Research, especially books, may be cataloged using outdated and/or biased terminology.
  • Some terminology may be considered politically incorrect, hurtful or even triggering.
  • Although you may want to avoid outdated terminology in your own research, you might need to use them as search terms if you want to be comprehensive, especially when searching historical materials and primary sources.

Historical Lack of Cataloging

  • Until relatively recently, disability studies material may not have been identified with relevant subject headings and tags.
  • Historically, some subject headings and tags did not exist.

Text for this section courtesy of Stacy Reardon and Jennifer Dorner from the UC Berkeley Libraries