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Fri February 10, 2012
Dr. Chris Gabbard, University of North Florida - Disability Studies
Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Chris Gabbard of the University of North Florida explains how the academic spectrum can be enriched through the addition of disability studies programs.
Chris Gabbard is an associate professor of English at the University of North Florida where he teaches courses in Restoration and 18-century British literature, disability studies, narrative medicine and composition. His current research explores how intelligence (wit) and intellectual disability (idiocy) came to be defined in the Age of Reason. Gabbard earned his Ph.D. at Stanford University.
Dr. Chris Gabbard - Disability Studies
Disability Studies scholar Lennard Davis recently wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "While our current interest in diversity is laudable, colleges rarely think of disability when they tout diversity." Skeptics of Disability Studies often ask, "Do we really need to add another identity to race and gender?" I answer this way: people who in earlier generations would have died from an injury, ailment, or congenital defect today are surviving on account of medicine. Many are surviving through medical miracles,' but are doing so with severely compromised bodies. They are surviving in the millions, and this phenomenon will become more prominent in the twenty-first century. Ian Brown posits that it is almost as though a new genre of human being has come into existence. My twelve-year-old son, August, is one of these new humans.
Too frequently, survivors must live with impairments that inflect how they answer the question of identity, the question of "Who am I?" Someone with a spinal cord injury very likely is going to answer the question by saying, "I am disabled." The late Harriet McBryde Johnson, who was born with a muscle-wasting disease, observes:
"I am the first generation to survive to such decrepitude. Because antibiotics were available, we didn't die from the childhood pneumonias that often come with weakened repertory systems. . . . most people don't know what to make of us."
It is because, as Johnson says, "people don't know what to make of us," that I try to help people make sense of individuals like her. Disabled people have been interpreted as signifiers ranging from scientific pathology to divine wrath to manifestations of God's glory. Through Disability Studies, I and others move beyond interpreting the disabled and seek instead to explain how they identify themselves.