Disability in the Disciplines

April 25-26, 2019



A symposium organized by the Disability and Access Initiative

Sponsored by the Health Humanities Lab, Franklin Humanities Institute

Co-sponsored by Duke Disability Alliance

Location: The Rubenstein Arts Center


The field of disability studies suggests that our vulnerabilities and weaknesses are what make us human. Starting from the essential perspective that disability rights are human rights, the study of disability helps us to realize that difference is, perhaps paradoxically, the one thing we all have in common. How do our definitions of “health” shift when we accept that there is no “normal”? How does the centering of disability alter our disciplinary assumptions, and enrich our educational, medical, legal, and artistic practices?

Explore these questions at “Disability in the Disciplines,” a two-day conference at Duke University on April 25-26, 2019. Organized by the Disability and Access Initiative, an interdisciplinary faculty working group within the Health Humanities Lab, the conference will engage Duke faculty across the schools and departments, as well as students and members of the community.

The event will open on a Thursday evening. A keynote from renowned disability studies scholar Lennard Davis (author of Enforcing Normalcy, Bending Over Backwards, The End of Normal, and the “Biocultures Manifesto”) will describe the generative potential of interdisciplinary collaboration across the arts, sciences, and humanities. Then, we will enjoy an interactive performing arts experience led by Marina Tsaplina, founder and director of The Betes. Along with students from Duke’s Reimagining Medicine pilot program, Marina will demonstrate how engaging with stories and originally-designed puppets can challenge our assumptions about normalcy and embodiment, and create a healthier approach to human difference.

On Friday morning, a plenary session on community engagement will give us the opportunity to meet disability advocates from local organizations, and think through ways to bring the university and the community together in service.

Then, with a series of interactive breakout sessions run by Duke faculty, we will explore how different disciplines approach the study of disability, and discuss the empowering methodologies of disability studies scholars and activists. Panels and roundtables will address topics such as Medical Ethics and the Culture of Care; Neurodiversity and Mental Health; Design; Theater and the Arts; Language, History, and Representation; and Disability Law and Human Rights.

In an afternoon plenary, we will learn about accessible pedagogy, and hear from student activists impacted by these issues. This student-led plenary is an opportunity to identify strategies for making our classrooms and our campus culture more welcoming and inclusive for all students.

The conference will conclude with an evening reception, during which participants can observe creative work and poster presentations by Duke students.

If you are a student (undergraduate or graduate) interested in participating in the Student Exposition, please fill out this form!