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UCLA to add disabilities minor in fall

By Rotem Ben-Shachar

April 11, 2007 9:51 p.m.

Beginning in the fall of 2007, UCLA will offer a disability studies minor which will allow students to examine academic areas as they relate to disabilities.

The interdisciplinary minor will offer “a new lens for understanding issues of the individual, society and culture,” according to the proposal for the minor, approved by the Undergraduate Council of the Academic Senate in February.

It is slated to include classes taught by 32 faculty members from 16 different UCLA departments, including English, education, nursing, gerontology, Spanish and social welfare.

“It’s very compelling that the minor will include classes from a lot of diverse departments. Because disability is such a broad theme, it allows students to learn about many different perspectives and specialize in an area that is most interesting to them,” said Lucy Blackmar, assistant vice provost for Undergraduate Education Initiatives.

Faculty and administrators have been working to implement the minor for more than two decades, Blackmar said.

Helen Deutsch, an English professor and the chairwoman of the faculty advisory committee for the disability studies minor, said she believes the minor will alter how students view their studies.

“Disability studies has changed the way I do my work. Disability is a reality of the human condition, and I think the minor will open people’s eyes and build their awareness,” she said.

Students can enter into the minor if they have a cumulative GPA of at least 2.7 after a minimum of 12 graded units of coursework. The minor will include seven upper-division courses including an interdisciplinary core class titled “Perspectives on Disabilities Studies,” taught by Deutsch and guest speakers from different departments.

Students will also be required to take two elective courses, including illness in literature, psychology of aging, and health policy.

Additionally, students must participate in a two-quarter internship or research project. The internship will take place in an agency that serves disabled people or works on policy concerning the disabled, and students can also opt to research a topic related to disability studies.

The minor culminates in a senior capstone project in which “students put together what they learn from both their classes and their internships,” Blackmar said.

The minor was well-received by the Undergraduate Council, which has the authority to approve minors, said Addar Weintraub, a student representative on the council.

“Disabled people have an identity past the fact that they are disabled. It is important that people put their perspectives in the context of other departments,” she said.

The only concern the Undergraduate Council had was that because the minor is not part of any specific department, it might be difficult for students in the minor to receive counseling and other academic support when they encounter problems.

But Weintraub said Deutsch’s passion for the minor helped suppress this fear.

The Undergraduate Council decided the disability studies minor will take the place of the developmental disabilities immersions program because many of their goals overlap, Weintraub said.

In 2005, Blackmar found that about 30 faculty members were still interested in the issue. Deutsch became the chair of the advisory committee and worked with Blackmar on the proposal.

Joan Earle Hahn, an associate professor in the UCLA School of Nursing and a member of the committee, has taken interest in the disability studies minor since 2003. She said she hopes to work with students who want field experience and consult with students as needed.

“I think the minor is a great way for students to look closely at a very important issue,” she said.

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