This fall, Rutgers University–New Brunswick will introduce a new minor in disability studies. With one in four adults in the U.S. living with a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the program acknowledges such conditions as an inherent part of the human experience, educators said.
The minor is a collaborative effort among several schools and departments at Rutgers with the primary goal of shining a light on the realities of disability.
“We wanted to create an opportunity for students to engage with disability studies in a comprehensive and interdisciplinary way,” said Julia Sass Rubin, director of the Public Policy program at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, where the program will be housed. “This minor is a response to the growing awareness of the importance of understanding disability as a fundamental aspect of human diversity.”
Faculty members from the Bloustein School, the School of Management and Labor Relations, the Mason Gross School of the Arts and the School of Arts and Sciences will jointly oversee the program, but electives for the minor will also be offered by other schools, including Environmental and Biological Sciences, Communication and Information, Social Work and Education.
“This minor enables students to explore disability studies from various angles,” Sass Rubin said. “It’s not limited to a single focus, like psychology or politics. Students can tailor their education based on their interests. For example, if someone is interested in disability in the context of art, they can focus on that. Similarly, those drawn to public health, policy or other areas can tailor their elective courses accordingly.”
Disability Studies at Rutgers
The 18-credit minor includes three mandatory courses: Introduction to Disability Studies, Disability Policy and Law and Field Experience for Special Populations. Students will be able to select three electives from a pool of over 60 options.
Professor Lisa Schur, who helped create the minor and teaches one of the three required courses, said she’s “enthusiastic” about the new offering. She hopes to see students both with and without disabilities in the classes, and those with a variety of interests.
“Maybe they’re going into occupational therapy, social work, education, maybe politics; some of them will head to law schools and a good number of them will be going into HR,” said Schur.
Having more informed people going out into the world to work in a variety of fields will not only improve quality of life for people with disabilities; it will also spur inclusion in places where it is often lacking, said Rutgers economics Professor Douglas Kruse, who is married to Schur.
That’s what recent Rutgers University grad Abigail Clemson, 22, took away from the two disability classes she had taken.
“Regardless of the situation, you’re likely to encounter individuals with disabilities. This could be due to factors like aging, which can bring about various health challenges, or mental health issues that are becoming more prominent and openly discussed,” Clemson said. “In essence, there’s always a possibility that you’ll either engage with someone who has a disability, whether professionally or just in your daily life.”
The Randolph resident, who graduated in the spring with a bachelor’s degree in political science, also minored in education and said she’s disappointed she missed the opportunity to take part in the new program.
“I personally have a passion for helping people, specifically people with disabilities because I think sometimes their voice isn’t necessarily heard,” she said.
A highlight of the program is its field experience requirement, organizers said. Students will have the opportunity to pursue internships in nonprofit organizations, government agencies and more.
Professors Jeff Friedman and Javier Robles led the push to establish the minor, which began more than six years ago.
“This minor is an important academic credential for those planning careers in education, health care, advocacy, policy, law, rehabilitation, planning, public health, social services, performing arts and engineering,” said Friedman, a professor of dance studies.