Disability Thought Of The Week: What's Your Major?

Disability Thought Of The Week on a yellow legal pad background

I don’t know how new this idea really is, but it feels new and kind of fresh to me. Another way to describe the different ways people approach disability is to use a college major analogy. The way I see it, the main approaches to disability break down like this:


Disability is about physical and mental conditions, symptoms, diagnoses, treatment, rehabilitation, adaptation, prevention, and cures. It’s about how our bodies and / or our minds are different, and how we can cope with that, or make them less different. It's about fixing what's wrong.


Disability is about self image, education, social skills, internalized ableism, empowerment, and disability prejudice. It’s about how each of us processes our disabilities, the way people treat us, and how we present ourselves and deal with the people around us in relation to our disabilities. It's about understanding ourselves and what disability means to us as individuals.


Disability is about institutional ableism, accessibility, disability culture and identity, and disability history. It’s about how society and culture creates, uses and modifies the category of disability, and how we can deal with that and redefine disability on our own terms, together, as a group. It's about understanding disability as a social phenomenon.

Political Science

Disability is about activism, coalition-building, and disability policy. It’s about making everyday life better … maybe a lot better … for disabled people through deliberate and specific policies, through concrete things we know how to do, if we can muster enough political will. It's about using political action to make things better.

Everybody with disabilities, and everyone with any reason to think about disability, “majors” in one of these approaches, sometimes with a minor to go with it. The thing is, having disabilities is about ALL of these things. The differences among us are about which aspects of disabilities we understand best, which affect us most day to day, and which we are most interested in thinking and talking about.

And, like so many college students, sometimes we switch majors over time. What’s your major? What was it when you were young, or when you first experienced disability? Has your disability major changed?