University offers individuals graduate certificate for disability studies

Oct. 6, 2014

Audrey Jensen
[email protected]

The sociology department introduced a new inter-college and inter-disciplinary graduate certificate in spring semester 2014, offered alongside a master’s degree.

Certificate coordinator and assistant professor Emily Nusbaum and chair of sociology and associate professor Heather Albanesi proposed the idea for a separate Graduate Certificate in Disability Studies in 2013.

The certificate requires a minimum of four courses.

“Graduate students are pairing [the graduate certificate] with a master’s degree in [degrees such as] sociology, communication, women’s and ethnics studies and education,” Nusbaum said. “Getting it by itself wouldn’t do anything.”

Nusbaum said that eight students are currently completing the certificate in addition to a master’s degree and that all of the courses are full.

Cynthia Barram, senior English major, is in the process of completing the certificate. Barram has cerebral palsy, a condition she has had since birth. The disease for her consists of spastic paralysis which means that her muscles do not always cooperate the way she would like.

“You don’t know what’s going to be loose and what’s going to be tight,” Barram said, “It was difficult at first when I was little. Once you get into your groove it makes it easier. Now we get to activism: what we’re learning in disability class, difference between impairment and disability.”

Barram does not currently have plans for the certificate when she completes it, but is happy that it is offered.

According to Nusbaum, the certificate was proposed because “this field exists to retheorize away from dominant deficit-faced ways [of viewing disability].”

“This certificate [will bring] an establishment of broader dialogue around disability that is critical and transforming as it is building into a university curriculum,” Nusbaum added. “It has the potential to change how we think and feel about disability.”

Nusbaum explained that the study of disabilities is along the lines of special education and sees disability separately while disabilities studies is academic and that disability is seen as a natural part of human experience.

“One of the key aspects in this graduate certificate is understanding that study of disabilities is different than the disability studies field,” she said.

Nusbaum is currently teaching Foundations of Disability Studies, a class required for the certificate, as an online course that is only offered in the fall.

In the class, students are able to see disability as a social, cultural and political phenomenon and study ableism, stigma, eugenics, disability activism, as well as disability in spirituality and in film.

Nusbaum is currently funded by the Disabilities Study Working Group, an organization made up of faculty from CU Boulder, Denver and Anschutz.

The group originally wanted the certificate to be systemwide but found that the varying classes and schedules made it difficult to offer it across several campuses, Nusbaum said.

“Hopefully [the certificate] will advance to different departments,” she said. “We want to build more courses and get an undergraduate [disability studies] approved.”

As for Barram, she appreciates how the course is distinguishing between impairment and disability. She commented that the course has so far “been a lot of fun and [is] enlightening.”