At 20, Berkeley's Disability Studies program looks ahead with new energy

October 3, 2023

Launched in 2003, Disability Studies, though formally housed in the Division of Undergraduate Studies, is now present in departments across Berkeley, from art practice to linguistics to sociology.

When Ann Wai-Yee Kwong entered UC Berkeley as a student, she had never heard of disability studies, an interdisciplinary field that examines the social structures and cultural depictions that shape — and are shaped by — the experiences of people with disabilities.

“There's no chapter in high school that focuses on disability,” said Kwong, who is blind. “The idea that disability is something you can be proud of — that it’s a field with rich socioeconomic and historical identity you can study — was relatively new to me.”

Kwong is now the coordinator of the Disability Cultural Community Center, which opened its doors on campus last October. In addition to creating a welcoming space for students with disabilities to gather, Kwong seeks to draw attention to the ways in which different academic subjects intersect with disability.

The Berkeley disability community’s advocacy was critical to establishing the center, just as it helped create the disability studies minor 20 years ago. First-year students are receiving a vivid lesson in disability activism this fall through the On the Same Page program, which has selected the Oscar-nominated documentary Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution for a series of screenings and events. On the Same Page builds intellectual community around a piece of work that has changed how we experience the world.

This year’s planning committee for On the Same Page is a who’s who of disability studies lecturers at Berkeley, with the Department of English — one of 130 academic units on campus — holding half of the six spots. That department’s strong presence is a reflection of decades of work to integrate disability scholarship into the curriculum.

Berkeley News