University of Pittsburgh
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The Disability Experience: State of Research, Scholarship, and the Arts

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Thanks to everyone that came to or presented at our conference and made it a success. All of the papers and presentations are available below.

Purpose and objectives of the conference:

The aim of the first ever disability studies conference at the University of Pittsburgh was to bring together a wide spectrum of faculty, students, and other individuals - especially those from the University and its communities - whose interests captured the experience of disability and who wished to advance disability-related fields and further their integration into the curricula and in community life.

Panel Descriptions

Assistive Technology

People with disabilities use assistive technology to be independent, participate in their communities, and perform tasks to a higher degree than they could without assistive technology. Panelists will address issues related to the development and use of assistive technology. The topics will focus on new and emerging issues around the developments, innovations, policies, access, and use of assistive technology.

Community Inclusion

When implemented, community inclusion enables integration of and equal opportunity for people with disabilities into their environments and communities. Significant efforts have been made over the past few decades to better conceptualize and discuss inclusion of people with disabilities into their communities, in terms of the quality and quantity of participation. Topics for this panel are likely to include (but are not limited to) self-determination, inclusion, empowerment, self-advocacy. Key issues should address the importance of community inclusion for all people, especially people with disabilities, and the impact Community Inclusion research can have on disability studies.


With proper assistive technology and resources, most students with disabilities can learn alongside their peers and today are doing so at all levels at unparalleled rates. Legislation like IDEA-the federal law that governs how states and public agencies meet the educational needs of children with disabilities-support programs like those on the University of Pittsburgh's campus, while local disability support agencies ensure students have the resources and tools they need to succeed. However, persons with disabilities still have lower graduation and employment rates, and prevalence in certain fields like science and technology. Panelists will address key issues surrounding disability including but not limited to transition, access, and inclusion across the educational pipeline (K-12, community college/undergraduate, and graduate).

English & Fine Arts

English and Fine Arts generate, explore and examine theories and representations of human experience. These fields of English and Fine Arts provide an important intellectual and aesthetic space for thinking about disability as a key facet of human identity and culture. The study of literature and art can shed light on the disability experience and on attitudes toward those with disabilities, given that these expressions come out of the social and cultural contexts in which they are produced. By looking critically at the ways disability as a concept and persons with disabilities have been represented in literature and art, scholars are able to more fully theorize and historicize the intersections of disability with cultural areas such as race, sexuality, and religion that coalesce into the human experience.

Health & Wellness

Due to advances in medicine and technology, more individuals are living longer with their disabilities. As a result, our understanding of health and wellness and the constructs surrounding these concepts are rapidly evolving. Topics of this panel are likely to include (but are not limited to) disparities in healthcare and emergency response; effects of activities and participation on mental and physical health; nutrition and exercise; and the relationship between psychosocial and physical wellbeing.

Policy, Employment & Law

With proper accommodations and resources, individuals with disabilities have the potential to work alongside their peers at all levels. Legislation such as the Social Security Act, Rehabilitation Act, and Americans with Disability Act (ADA) support state and local programs and agencies that are charged with ensuring individuals with disabilities have the resources and tools they need to succeed vocationally. However, persons with disabilities still have a lower employment rate and higher rate of poverty than individuals without disabilities. Panelists will address key issues including but not limited to transition, income support, advocacy, access, and vocational services leading to successful gainful employment.


The fundamental premise of Disability Studies is that disability is a culturally fabricated narrative of disability identity. Narrative is a basic tool in the study of the disability experience. Narratives analyze and tell stories, often about oppression and exclusion. Social scientists use narratives as an analytic content to which to apply theories such as stigma. Clinicians use it as a qualitative tool to identify the nuances of the disabled patient's experience, involving the body, function and context, which are important to diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Researchers and scholars in the humanities provide and analyze narrative to discern meaning, representation and other concepts.

Faculty-Student Roundtable

The faculty-student roundtable is very important to this conference because it bring students with disabilities together with faculty and administration to address key needs of students with disabilities in higher education and what can be done to meet those needs.