Shubowitz lectures on integrating disability studies in care professions

Therapist and anthropologist Devorah Shubowitz gave a guest lecture on Feb. 20 on the importance of disability studies in different social service fields in a lecture titled “Disability as Expertise.” The lecture was organized by the Center for Ethics and Public Engagement as well as the Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work Departments.

Shubowitz’s lecture emphasized the importance of disability studies and interdisciplinary work for students planning to pursue careers in fields such as social work or physical therapy. Shubowitz also believes her message is valuable to students in all areas of study as a way of building connections.

“That’s the whole idea of disability studies,” Shubowitz said. “It’s to bring out the conversation. Once you start revealing stuff about yourself, then you have a connection with a person, and all of a sudden you are a part of a community.”

Shubowitz started her lecture by outlining her path to disability studies, which began through her work in physical therapy. She described working with children with disabilities and how she found that they often did not think anything was wrong when they did things in a different way from other children.

Shubowitz gave the example of a child climbing onto a trampoline on all fours. While it worked well for the child the parents wanted to convince the child to jump onto the trampoline rather than climb onto it, to align with able-bodied norms. Disability studies helps break down ideas of what is understood as normal.

“Anyone who is working with a disabled population is going to need a perspective of disability studies, that is disability led scholarship in whatever field they’re choosing,” Shubowitz said. “That’s the kind of expertise that traditionally is not provided in medical professions.”

Associate Professor of Anthropology and Women and Gender Studies Maryna Bazylevych explained that Shubowitz brought an important topic that is often overlooked in academic settings.

“[Disability studies] is an exciting and innovative field that’s not really taught at an undergraduate level,” Bazylevych said. “Many majors incorporate elements of disability studies, but its very unusual to have any kind of introduction to disability studies type of class. I knew that there was something on campus that was missing.”

Shubowitz explained that a background in disability studies can help people find solutions in a more creative and inclusive way. Nursive major Alec Olson (’20) found that the lecture provided a valuable new perspective.

“It’s a good reminder to step back when I’m caring for patients in the future who may have these disabilities and to not try to push some kind of normative agenda,” Olson said. “Maybe the goals for them are significantly different than what I might think is correct”

Bazylevych and Shubowitz want to promote open discussions of disabilities and disability studies and to remove the stigma around disability. They encourage students pursuing careers in physical therapy or other care related fields to find value in ways of thinking and problem solving that are different from what is considered “normal.”

“It’s a hopeful message that difference might be very meaningful and might allow someone to see in a broader way,” Bazylevych said. “beyond that the value is for people to go into their future professions with maybe even a vague memory of this talk and give a second thought to some of the assumptions that might be the mode of operation in their future profession.”

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