Universities lacking disability curriculum

Hannah Haney News Contributor

Study reveals that universities lacking in disability curriculum

Although many universities around the country are lacking courses on disability in their curriculum, professors at Oregon State University is working to change this.

Kathleen Bogart, assistant professor of psychology in the College of Liberal Arts at Oregon State University, co-authored a study revealing how universities are failing to address disabilities in their courses.

The largest minority group in the U.S. is people with disabilities, who make up 19 percent of the population. However, education on disability in college psychology courses is lacking across the country.

Bogart’s study was titled, “Teaching About Disability in Psychology, an Analysis of Disability Curricula in U.S. Undergraduate Psychology Programs.”

“Psychology does a good job of teaching about other minority groups such as race and sexuality, but disability doesn’t get talked about as much and it’s the largest minority group,” Bogart said.

The study, published in the journal Teaching of Psychology, analyzed the content of psychology courses from the top 98 universities in the nation. According to the study, all schools failed to provide courses on the wide range of different disabilities; cognitive, chronic, intellectual, sensory and physical, as well as psychiatric.

Courses covering psychiatric disabilities, including depression, were the only standard curriculum at every one of the schools.

The study shows that many of the most common types of disability were underrepresented. For example, only 8 percent of universities cover physical disabilities in their undergraduate psychology courses. However, 37 percent of disabled people have a physical disability.

Not only are many types of disability not covered in coursework, but the method with which disability is being taught is incomplete. The study explains how disability is commonly taught using a medical model, meaning disability is viewed as a disorder that needs to be cured.

“In the U.S. we have historically thought about disability in the medical model,” Bogart said. “The medical model sees the entire problem of disability as being within the individual and is looking to fix it. (Disability) is viewed as a personal problem with somebody and their goal is to remove that problem.”

Bogart recognizes the value of the medical model of disability, but believes that college courses need to move toward viewing disabilities through the social model.

“The medical model is based on science and medicine. There has been wonderful advances in healthcare and quality of life due to the medical model,” Bogart said. “However the social model says that disability is not all about physical stuff. There’s more to it than just the physical realities and in fact, the things that cause disability are socially constructed.”

John Edwards, professor and director in the School of Psychological Science, discussed how disability is socially constructed.

“If you have someone in a wheelchair whose legs don’t work the same as everyone else’s, they are labeled as disabled,” said Edwards. “But not everyone can get upstairs, maybe stairs aren’t the best way to go. People that can’t go upstairs aren’t lesser people.”

OSU does offer psychology classes on disability, including “Psychology and Disability” taught by Bogart herself. In addition, there is the OSU Disability Network, an interdisciplinary group of professors, staff and students that are interested in creating a Disability Studies curriculum at OSU.

A core member of the OSU Disability Network is Stephanie Jenkins, assistant professor in the School of History, Philosophy and Religion has been working on creating a course called “Introduction to Disability Studies”.

The class will be offered as a special topics course this spring, and when approved, will become Philosophy 275.

“We ultimately decided to house the disabilities studies program in the School of History Philosophy and Religion and I would take the lead on writing the proposal and getting things up and running,” Jenkins said.

Bogart believes it is important to start weaving disability studies into undergraduate psychology classes because these courses serve a majority of the population at OSU. Most undergraduates will take and introduction to psychology class at some point, Bogart said.

“We encounter so many students, and the idea behind psychology is to create psychologically literate citizens- people who are sensitive to other people’s needs and prepared to work with a diverse population,” Bogart said.

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