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UB College of Arts and Sciences Launches Center for Disability Studies

Release Date: July 31, 2009

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) at the University at Buffalo has launched a Center for Disability Studies, a partnership between CAS and People Inc. aimed at advancing greater acceptance of persons with disabilities in the community.

The goal of the center, which is housed in CAS, is to encourage the study, teaching and accurate representation of disability, and of individuals with disabilities, says David Gerber, UB Distinguished Professor in the Department of History and center director.

The present task of the center, which is operating on a three-year trial basis, is to sponsor a visiting scholar for one semester each academic year for the three years. The scholar, Gerber says, will teach a course on disability history in his or her academic discipline, deliver a public lecture or presentation and help open a new "wing" of People Inc.'s Museum of disABILITY History's online virtual museum, as well as consult on new exhibits for the traditional museum, located at North Forest and Maple roads in Amherst.

The scholar also will help plan the Disability Film Festival that is held each fall in the Market Arcade Film and Arts Center in downtown Buffalo.

The center held an inaugural event last April that featured a keynote address on "When Blind People March for Dr. King," by Catherine Kudlick, professor of history at the University of California-Davis and president of the Disability History Association.

Gerber, whose scholarly interests include the history of disabled World War II veterans, notes that the center furthers the agendas of both People Inc. and UB. People Inc. is working to create greater understanding of persons with disabilities and expand their integration into the community. For years, many persons with disabilities lived in large institutions, but that is no longer the case -- partly due to the cost, and partly because that model is outmoded, he says, adding that the general consensus now is that it is wrong to "warehouse" persons with disabilities.

People Inc. worked with Assembly member Mark Schroeder to get the state Legislature to establish an annual Disability History Week (the resolution, passed in June 2008, sets the third week in October as Disability History Week) during which teachers in the public schools would help students learn how persons with disabilities were instrumental in changing history and how they became active participants in changing societal attitudes.

"People Inc. wants Americans to be educated to accept persons with disabilities living in the community to the extent that is possible," Gerber says. "But to do that, you have to have a different understanding of what it means to be disabled and a different concept of disability."

From UB's perspective, the center would help further the emergence of disability studies as a new multidisciplinary field of study, he says.

He points out the topic can be viewed as a civil rights issue -- the expansion of freedom and social participation of persons with disabilities -- as well as a more profound intellectual issue concerning the "ongoing questioning of what we as a society regard as normal and natural."

The search for the visiting scholar is under way and being conducted by the center's advisory committee, which includes members Francisco Vasquez, executive vice president of People Inc. and adjunct faculty member in the Social Sciences Interdisciplinary Degree Programs (IDP); James Boles, CEO of People Inc., ex officio; Susan Cahn, associate professor of history; Lee Dryden, director of the Social Sciences IDP; Ann McElroy, associate professor of anthropology; Edward Steinfeld, professor of architecture and director of the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access; John Stone, clinical associate professor of rehabilitation sciences and director of the Center for International Rehabilitation Research Information and Exchange; and Cynthia Wu, assistant professor of American studies.

The goal is to have a scholar on board for the spring 2010 semester, Gerber says.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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