The Disability Division is devoted to the critical study of disability in society, including the structural and sociocultural mechanisms through which disability is (re)produced and (re)constructed as an axis of oppression and exclusion. Our concerns are wide-ranging, and include the following:

  1. Disability has historically been, and continues to be, overlooked within mainstream sociology. Disability remains understudied and undertheoriezd as both: a) a phenomenological category of existence and b) a social category used to disqualify groups of people and deny them access to cultural, economic, and political resources.

  2. The historical treatment of people with disabilities and associations of the label disability with disqualification and denial of full citizenship have resulted in a persistent pattern of differential outcomes in many areas, including: housing, income, education, civic participation, voting, incarceration, and self-determination.

  3. Disability has emerged as a source of collective identity, around which people have formed multiple social movement organizations that advocate for greater inclusion and social justice for people with disabilities. The disability rights movement , the civil rights movement for people with disabilities, has engaged in significant and meaningful political activities – including nonviolent civil disobedience – as part of this struggle. Counted among their successes are: the enactment of the Rehabilitation Act (1973) and subsequent amendments, the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990), and the inclusion of the Community First Choice Option in the Affordable Care Act (2010). 

  4. In addition to advocating on behalf of their own community interests, people with disabilities have participated in and continue to participate in other social movements working in coalition for a more just world. 

  5. Ableism, like racism, sexism, ageism, heterosexism, and other institutional and structural forms of prejudice, discrimination, and marginalization, has a significant and pervasive force impacting the lives of everyone in society.  Further interrogation is needed into the ideologies and practices that sustain ableism, as well as the immediate, intermediate, and cumulative effects of ableism on individuals, communities, and nations.

  6. Historical and contemporary (re)presentations of disability and people with disabilities by the dominant, able-bodied culture have dehumanized people with disabilities and rejected their agency as producers of knowledge.  As people with disabilities have come to critique and reject these other-made (re)presentations, new forms of disability culture(s) have emerged that (re)claim bodily and emotional performance and assert people with disabilities as experts on their own lives.

  7. As a socio/politico/legal category, disability represents an important claim of citizenship on the State for resources, services, protection, and power. Conversely, the State is constantly engaged in renegotiating the boundaries of the category of disability in order to de-legitimate or mitigate these claims.

  8. Environments influence and inform the experience of disability and disabling processes.  Social, physical, natural, ideological, and geopolitical environments create unique contexts in which specific types of bodies and minds are validated and others are marginalized.

  9. The recognition that disability is a social determinant of life opportunities and of health across the lifecourse. Disability shapes individuals’ lives, just like more widely recognized determinants, such as gender, race, ethnicity, and class.

  10. Members of the division are interested in how disability intersects with other social characteristics, including but not limited to, gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, veteran and immigration status.

  11. Our examination of disability as a social characteristic is grounded in social models of the phenomenon, which address segregation, institutional barriers, and discrimination. Although we do not ignore the body in our work, the primary focus is on how societies treat individuals with disabilities and the consequences of that treatment.

Given these concerns, our vision of a just world is one where all individuals are supported in their efforts to live to their highest potential in environments that enable opportunity and actively combat all forms of discrimination. Specifically, these environments would afford access for people with disabilities to meaningfully participate in schools and jobs, families, communities, and other social groupings. Our work is focused broadly and seriously addresses both the power of disability as a social category and the lives of people with disabilities and the contexts in which they live them.

Within our division, disability is recognized within the social problems framework.  Disability is both something that individuals and groups in society produce (through war and work, for example) and construct (through ideas and representations). Consequently, disability is re-politicized, and the prevailing idea that disability is a personal problem is rejected.

Examples of some of the topics that our members have explored include: Disability policies, community activism and organization, the intersection of race and culture in the experience of disability, disability and war, the medical normalization of disability, and disability and life course.

Division mission statement reviewed in November 2023 by Alan Santinele Martino, University of Calgary, Disability Division Co-Chair, 2022-2024 and Ben R. Sher, New York University Silver School of Social Work, Disability Division Co-Chair, 2023-2025. No edits were made. Division mission statement reviewed in November 2022 by Catherine M. Voulgarides, Hunter College, CUNY, Disability Division Co-Chair, 2021-2023 and Alan Santinele Martino, University of Calgary, Disability Division Co-Chair, 2022-2024. No edits were made. Division mission statement edited in 2013 by Brian R. Grossman, University of Illinois at Chicago, Disability Division Co-Chair 2012-2014 and Alexis Bender, Army Institute of Public Health, Disability Division Co-Chair 2013-2015.

Some Readings: 

Albrecht, Gary L., Katherine D. Seelman, and Michael Bury. 2001. Handbook of Disability Studies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Albrecht, Gary L. 1992. The Disabiltiy Business: Rehabilitation in America. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Barnartt, Sharon and Richard Scotch. 2001. Disability Protests: Contentious Politics, 1970-1999.  Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.

Barnes, Colin, Geof Mercer, and Tom Shakespeare. 1999. Exploring Disability: A Sociological Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers Inc.

Bell, Chris. 2011. Blackness and Disability: Critical Examinations and Cultural Interventions. Germany: LIT Verlag.

Berger, Ronald. 2012. Introducing Disability Studies. Boulder, CO: Lynne Reiner Publishers.

Carey, Allison C. 2010. On the Margins of Citizenship: Intellectual Disability and Civil Rights in Twentieth-Century America. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Charlton, James. 2000. Nothing About Us Without Us: Disability Oppression and Empowerment. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Groce, Nora Ellen. 1985. Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language: Hereditary Deafness on Martha's Vineyard. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Leiter, Valerie. 2012. Their Time Has Come: Youth with Disabilities on the Cusp of Adulthood. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Oliver, Michael. 1990. The Politics of Disablement. New York: Macmillan.

Priestley, Mark. 2001. Disability and the Life Course: Global Perspectives. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Russell, Marta. 2002. Beyond Ramps: Disability at the End of the Social Contract. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press.

Scotch, Richard K. 2001. (2nd edition). From Good Will to Civil Rights: Transforming Federal Disability Policy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Scott, Robert. 1981. The Making of Blind Men: A Study of Adult Socialization. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Shapiro, Joseph. 1993. No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement. New York: Times Books.

Stone, Deborah A. 1984. The Disabled State. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Thomas, Carol. 2007. Sociologies of Disability and Illness: Contested Ideas in Disability Studies and Medical Sociology. New York, NYs: Palgrave Macmillan

Tremain, Shelley. 2005. Foucault and the Government of Disability. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Disability and Health. Healthy People 2020." Available at: http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topicsobjectives2020/overview.aspx?topicid=9

Zola, Irving Kenneth. 1982. Missing Pieces: A Chronicle of Living with a Disability. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.